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Robert Wallace shooting: Make My Day law meets Gran Torino

The Robert Wallace case has all the trademarks of a justice-gone-awry tale. When Wallace, an 81-year-old Wheat Ridge resident, saw two men trying to steal his trailer this past February, he opened fire, hitting one of the men in the head. But the person busted in the shooting's immediate aftermath was Wallace, for attempted murder, while the two suspects in the theft attempt remained free until last week.

Nonetheless, a Wheat Ridge Police rep believes the department has acted properly, despite the "anger and hatred" this turn of events has stirred.

According to the WRPD account, Wallace saw two men, identified as Alvaro Cardona-DeLoera, 28, and Damacio Torres-Ochoa, 32, attempting to hitch his trailer to their red truck. As they fled the scene, with one of the men running alongside the truck before gaining entry to the vehicle's cab, he fired two shots -- although he didn't immediately mention that to police.

Cardona-DeLoera was subsequently admitted at a local hospital with a gunshot wound to the head. (His mug shot clearly shows the impact the bullet had upon him.) He'd been dropped off by a red truck, which led WRPD officers to connect the two incidents.

Upon further questioning, Wallace admitted that he'd fired shots at the men, leading to his arrest on attempted murder charges. But Cardona-DeLoera and Torres-Ochoa weren't immediately charged with theft, because the Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force (MATT) was in the midst of looking into a theft ring that involved trailers, and investigators thought the two men might be involved.

When that didn't prove to be the case, Wheat Ridge authorities charged Cardona-DeLoera and Torres-Ochoa with theft. But Torres-Ochoa was already in hot water with Immigration and Custom Enforcement, whose agents previously busted him on an immigration violation.

This last twist inspired the likes of KHOW's Peter Boyles, a major critic of immigration policy, to pick up the story -- and why not? The contrast between an elderly man defending his property, Gran Torino-style, against the actions of an illegal alien -- and then being prosecuted for his actions -- could hardly be more stark.

Still, WRPD public information officer Lisa Stigall believes that many of the media reports have been "off-base."

Regarding the time gap between Wallace's arrest and that of the two men accused of stealing from him, she says, "attempted murder or any kind of violent crime, regardless of what it is, holds a much higher standard of urgency than theft. And this particular theft was not a violent crime.

"It is unfortunate that people steal from each other, and that these two individuals chose to steal Mr. Wallace's trailer, but what they were doing wasn't a violent crime. And attempted murder -- shooting your weapon, using deadly force against another person -- ranks higher."

That's not to mention the role of the task force, which was "looking into the larger picture" regarding thefts of trailers and other vehicles, she allows. "We had probable cause to present to the DA's office to charge Mr. Wallace right upfront. That's what we're sworn to do, and that's what we did. And as soon as we received word from MATT that they wouldn't be including these two in a much larger investigation, we were able to move forward and take the other two individuals into custody."

Stigall adds that both men had originally shown authorities what appeared to be legal Colorado IDs: "We didn't know ICE was involved in this until they took Mr. Torres-Ochoa into custody. That was a surprise to us. If they'd had questionable immigration status when we booked them, the ICE notification would have begun. But neither of these two were booked through us or through a jail. So we hadn't started any of the immigration processes with ICE."

When determining whether Wallace should be charged with attempted murder, Stigall says, "two laws came into play. The first one involved the use of physical force in defense of property, and it says a person can use 'reasonable and appropriate physical force' on someone who you believe is trying to steal from you. But you can only use deadly force in the circumstances of the 'Make My Day' law. And that specifically states that the occupant of a dwelling is justified in using deadly force when a person has made an unlawful entry into the dwelling, and the occupant has reason to suspect that person is going to commit another crime.

"I'm not a lawyer," Stigall acknowledges -- but the DA's office believes "the two laws don't apply in this particular case. Mr. Wallace didn't state to police that he ever felt threatened, and the two individuals were leaving the property."

Wallace has been the recipient of support aplenty due to his status as an octogenarian, but Stigall emphasizes that "the age of a suspect doesn't come into play unless they're under the age of ten. We can't as law enforcement decide that at a certain age, a person doesn't need to be prosecuted for the crimes they commit. It's unfortunate that Mr. Wallace is now affected by his actions, but they're actions he chose to take."

Even so, Stigall implies that even the boys and girls in blue have some sympathy for Wallace's plight.

"Every cop out there takes an oath to uphold the law, regardless of how they personally feel about the law," she says. "That's our job.

"Mr. Wallace has been charged with attempted murder, and we have two thieves in jail -- one of them likely to be permanently damaged by this whole situation that's taken place. So there are really no winners in this case."

Look below to see a lengthy WRPD timeline about the case, as well as a release about the accused trailer thieves' arrest, plus TV coverage from Channel 9:

 

WHEAT RIDGE POLICE PROVIDE CLARIFICATIONS REGARDING TRAILER THEFT/ATTEMPT 1ST DEGREE MURDER CASE

Wheat Ridge, Colorado -- In response to numerous inquiries, the following is a clarification and chronological order of the events that occurred in regard to the case involving the theft of a trailer and Attempted 1st Degree Murder charges involving Mr. Robert Wallace of Wheat Ridge. It is important to remind the public that all suspects in this case should be considered innocent until proven guilty by a court of law.

The following bullet points should be considered alleged facts until such time as guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

February 24, 2010, at 8:47 p.m.:

• Robert Wallace (81), residing at 3749 Sheridan Blvd., in Wheat Ridge, called the Wheat Ridge Police Department to report that his trailer had been stolen.

• When Mr. Wallace called police dispatch, he provided a description of a red Ford truck as the suspect vehicle that he had seen leaving north on Sheridan Blvd. pulling his trailer.

• A Wheat Ridge uniformed police officer was dispatched to the theft call at 9:20 p.m. and arrived at Mr. Wallace's home at 9:23 p.m. to take a report.

• The officer checked the area for the red truck and the stolen trailer but did not locate it.

• Mr. Wallace provided the value of the trailer and the identifying information on the trailer to the officer.

• Mr. Wallace did not tell the officer that anything more had occurred other than his trailer being stolen at that time.

February 26, 2010:

• A Wheat Ridge Detective Sergeant received a phone call from the Denver Police Department concerning a shooting they believed to have occurred in Denver on February 24, 2010.

• During the investigation by the Denver Police Department, homicide detectives learned that the incident may have occurred at 3749 Sheridan Blvd. in Wheat Ridge during the theft of a trailer.

• Wheat Ridge detectives contacted detectives with the Denver Police Department Homicide Unit.

• Denver detectives stated that on February 24, 2010 a 28-year-old male victim was brought to the Saint Anthony's Central Emergency Room at 9:51 p.m. with a gunshot wound to the face.

• Denver detectives further explained that the gunshot victim was brought to the emergency room and dropped off by a male driving a red Ford truck.

• Denver detectives explained that hospital staff described the truck has having one bullet hole in the passenger window.

• The gunshot victim was in poor condition and was in Saint Anthony's Central Hospital.

• Denver detectives learned that the Wheat Ridge Police Department took a trailer theft report at 8:47 p.m. two days earlier and that the suspect vehicle was a red Ford truck. Denver detectives felt that the two incidents were related.

• Wheat Ridge detectives returned to 3749 Sheridan Blvd. to re-interview Robert Wallace.

• Mr. Wallace told detectives that on the night his trailer was stolen, he heard a noise on the side of his house. When he went to investigate, he observed two men attempting to steal his trailer. Mr. Wallace stated that he yelled to the men to "stop" and they quickly finished hooking up the trailer and left the property.

• Wallace advised that the passenger was running along the side of the truck as it began driving away. The male passenger was able to get into the truck as it left with his property.

• Wallace was able to provide a description of the passenger in the truck.

• Mr. Wallace never reported to Wheat Ridge Police that he felt in fear of his life during the theft.

• Mr. Wallace denied to detectives that he had shot at anyone during the trailer theft.

• Upon further questioning, Mr. Wallace did admit that he fired two shots in the direction of the truck as the two men were stealing his trailer.

• Mr. Wallace provided the weapon used to shoot at the suspects. Wallace was taken into custody and later jailed.

• Mr. Wallace was released on $1000 personal recognizance bond.

• The Jefferson County District Attorney's Office was notified of this major case.

• A search warrant was obtained and served for 3749 Sheridan Blvd. Evidence was collected in this case.

• At the Denver Police Department, a second suspect in the trailer theft was interviewed.

• The second suspect was released later that date pending charges for Theft. At the request of the Wheat Ridge Police Department, he was fingerprinted and photographed at the Denver Police Department.

• The gunshot victim was not fingerprinted or photographed at the time due to his extended stay in the hospital.

• Both trailer theft suspects were in possession valid Colorado identification; however, their exact immigration status is still being investigated.

April 7, 2010:

• Members of the Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force (MATT) advised that there was an ongoing investigation into a motor vehicle and trailer theft ring.

May 7, 2010:

• Wheat Ridge detectives and the Jefferson County DA's Office met to discuss the case. It was determined at that time to delay filing charges on the trailer theft suspects until it could be determined if the theft of the trailer belonging to Mr. Wallace was part of a larger investigation by MATT.

July 7, 2010:

• Wheat Ridge Police learned from the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office that MATT had determined that they would not file charges on the suspects in the trailer theft as part of the larger MATT investigation.

Other Facts Regarding Aspects of this Case:

The "Make My Day" law, 18-1-704.5, applies to an occupant of a dwelling who is justified in using any degree of physical force against another person when the other person has made an unlawful entry into the dwelling and the occupant has a reasonable belief that such other person has committed a crime in addition to the uninvited entry and might use any physical force, no matter how slight, against any occupant.

18-1-706, use of physical force in defense of property: A person is justified in using reasonable and appropriate physical force upon another person when and to the extent that he reasonably believes it necessary to prevent what he believes to be an attempt by the other person to commit theft, criminal mischief, or criminal tampering involving property, but he may only use deadly physical force under these circumstances only in defense of himself or another as described in section 18-1-704.

The age of a suspect does not limit the filing the criminal charges, except as stated in CRS 18-1-801 Insufficient age, the responsibility of a person for his conduct is the same for persons between the ages of 10 and 18 as it is for persons over 18. No child under the age of 10 years of age shall be found guilty of any offense. Colorado law does not have an age limit for the arrest of crime suspects.

Police departments do not determine guilt or innocence. Police investigate cases and present them to the District Attorney. The District Attorney presents the case to the court and the court determines the disposition.

The Wheat Ridge Police Department considers the investigation of the trailer theft is a continuing investigation.

TRAILER THEFT SUSPECTS ARRESTED

Wheat Ridge, Colorado -- On July 9, 2010, Wheat Ridge police obtained probable cause arrest warrants for Damacio Torres-Ochoa (32), and Alvaro Cardona-DeLoera (28), both of Thornton, for class 3 Felony Theft and other charges in connection with a trailer theft in February 2010, that left Cardona-DeLoera with a gunshot wound to the face.

This afternoon, just after 3:00 p.m., U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) made contact with DamacioTorres-Ochoa at his place of employment in Boulder.

ICE discovered the Wheat Ridge warrant for Torres-Ochoa after taking him into custody on an immigration violation. Per procedure, ICE will transfer Torres-Ochoa's custody to the Jefferson County Jail where he will be held on a $100,000 bond for the Felony Theft charges.

At 6:20: p.m., today, July 9, 2010, Wheat Ridge detectives contacted Alvaro Cardona-DeLoera at a park in Westminster and took him into custody without incident.

Cardona-DeLoera will also be transported to the Jefferson County Jail and be held on a $100,000 bond.

The affidavits for arrests have been sealed until further notice, at the direction of the Jefferson County District Attorney.


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