Last week, we told you about the arrest of Kenneth Ruggieri on suspicion of attempted murder after allegedly shooting at a man with whom he'd been involved in a minor traffic accident -- and the Lakewood cops' belief that the victim, Paul Jones, had brought much of the trouble upon himself.
Jones was frustrated by this portrayal, in part because he says some of the facts haven't been made public yet. But in setting the record straight, he makes it clear he'll avoid such situations in the future.
On November 11, as we've reported, Jones was driving in Lakewood with his wife and son when he was bumped by a vehicle driven by Ruggieri, giving it a smallish scratch. Afterward, Jones followed the man to the latter's apartment, where he got into a scuffle with Ruggieri's passenger. In the end, he and his family were forced to flee after Ruggieri is said to have retrieved a gun and fired at least one shot.
In describing the incident, originally reported by 9News, whose images are seen throughout this post, Lakewood Police Department spokesman Steve Davis told us, "I think it was a very poor decision" to follow Ruggieri, "and it was probably even magnified more so because he had his wife and child in the car with him." He added, "It could have been much worse than it ended up. He could have been very seriously injured, if not killed -- and to have something like that happen over such a minor traffic- or road-rage type of incident was completely unnecessary. I would welcome anyone to try to convince us that it's worth that kind of risk over something so minor."
Jones agrees with many of Davis's comments. But he stresses that when he followed Ruggieri, he did not do so because he was seeking a confrontation.
According to him, he and his wife and son had just had a Veterans Day dinner at a Red Robin restaurant (no liquor was in his system; he'd had a hamburger, fries and a milkshake) when they were bumped at the intersection.
"We both get out," he recalls, referring to Ruggieri. "We're at the back of my vehicle, and I'm trying to look at the damage that's done -- and the light's green. So I said, 'Let's pull over somewhere and assess the damage.' And he said, 'Okay.'"
Ruggieri was also mumbling profanities, Jones maintains, and he had alcohol on his breath -- and after telling his wife about these observations, she picked up her phone and dialed 911 because "I thought we should get the police involved."
While following the car at what he describes as a safe distance -- a gap large enough that he couldn't read its license plate number -- Jones says he had no idea Ruggieri was heading to his apartment, which was just a few blocks away. He thought he was simply looking for a place to pull over so they could check out the damage together. Moreover, he stresses that the dispatcher on the phone with his wife "never told me to disengage."
After a drive he estimates at 45 seconds, the situation quickly spiraled out of control. "We both got out of our vehicles at his apartment, and he became irate with me. He started using profanity toward me -- 'F-you, f-this' -- and threatened to kill me. And then he started to walk somewhere, so I walked in the direction he was. I was trying to keep him in the area, so that when the police came, they could take care of this the right away. But he got in my face, said, 'F-you' and pushed me and then started to run somewhere."
As Ruggieri hurried away, Jones goes on, "I grabbed his sleeve. He had a short-sleeved black shirt on, and I wouldn't say I chased him, but because of his momentum, I did stumble with him for a second."
Since "I'm not a cop and I wasn't trying to take matters into my own hands," Jones subsequently headed back to his car "to get back on the phone with dispatch. But then the friend who was in the car with him got in my face and said, 'F-this, f-that, f-you' and pushed me."
In response, "I thought, I'm going to make a citizen's arrest until the police get here -- so I did a leg sweep on him to take him to the ground, since he was a little bit bigger than me and I wanted to make sure I could control the situation. But as soon as we got to the ground, [Ruggieri] came back out and said, 'I told you I was going to f-ing kill you,' and that's when I heard at least one shot fired and saw a muzzle flash."
He's confident the gun was pointed in his direction because "I did a term in Iraq back in 2004 to 2005. So I've been engaged with weapons, seen them get shot in the air, seen them get shot at people. That's one reason I'm against guns -- because I know what they can do to people. And when you see the muzzle flash, that means the gun is aimed right at you."
After the shot, Jones ran back to his car and sped off. Fortunately, he soon saw a Lakewood police officer and honked his horn until she pulled over. Ruggieri was taken into custody shortly thereafter.
Looking back on the incident, Jones makes note of how quickly everything happened; he estimates that only fifteen or twenty seconds elapsed between his first dust-up with Ruggieri and the shot. And while he admits that after Ruggieri's friend gave him a shove, he got physical because "I was tired of being pushed around," his main desire was "to do things the right way. I wasn't talking crap to him. It just escalated for no reason."
He admits to being upset by the LPD's Davis "saying I made a poor decision, because I really thought we were just going to assess the damage, and the dispatcher never told me to stop following him."
At the same time, though, "I understand that the police don't want the public turning into Batman and Robin. And it is true that you don't know how fast things can escalate.
"I'm very fortunate and thankful I have my life, and I wouldn't recommend that anybody else should do what I did. I talked to my wife and my son and told them if I would have known things would escalate to a gun being shot, I would never have put them into that situation. So I don't approve of what [police] said, but I understand they're concerned for the safety of the community."
In his words, "it was really minor damage to be shot at for, and if I would have known what would happen, I would have just let him go -- said, 'Hey, I'm heading home' and just deal with the damage. And I won't get into another situation like that ever again in my life."
Here's a look at Ruggieri's mug shot, followed by the original 9News report.
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More from our Colorado Crimes archive circa September 2012: "James Ernst cited in case prompted by bike-rage video that went viral."