Darrell Havens: Expert challenges police version of shooting that left 19-year-old paralyzed

In an affidavit filed in federal court, a veteran cop turned high-profile private investigator claims that an Arvada police officer who fired on an unarmed suspect during a car-theft sting operation in 2007, leaving the man a quadriplegic, was not justified in the use of deadly force -- and that "there is a conflict between officers' statements and physical evidence at [the] scene."

The affidavit is offered by Ellis Armistead, a former Lakewood police officer and deputy coroner who's frequently consulted as an expert witness on police procedure, and whose clients as a private investigator have included John and Patsy Ramsey and the Timothy McVeigh defense team. It comes as attorneys for Darrell Havens seek to revive his federal lawsuit against the police officer who shot him, a case examined in detail in my 2010 feature "Wheel Man."

Now confined to a wheelchair and serving twenty years in prison on charges of theft and attempted assault, Havens had a reputation as an elusive and prolific car thief when a team of eighteen police investigators from seven different agencies targeted him in a sting operation almost five years ago. The plan devised by Arvada detective Bill Johnson was to use an informant to lure Havens and a stolen Audi to a Target parking lot, pin him in with undercover vehicles, and taser him if he resisted arrest. Instead, Johnson ended up firing his .45 nine times, striking Havens with three bullets in the chest, neck and jaw.

Johnson told shoot-team investigators that Havens began ramming the police vehicles in an effort to escape and that he fired to protect himself. Since the Audi was revving its engine and poorly pinned on one side as Johnson approached, he explained, he thought "this son of a bitch is about ready to run my ass over." Interviews with other officers supported Johnson's account, and Jefferson County District Attorney Scott Storey found that Johnson used "lawful and appropriate force."

Havens, though, has always maintained that the police began ramming his car before he could even attempt to escape. His right arm useless from a previous motorcyle accident, he claims he was already helpless and not in control of the Audi, which was sliding on ice but pinned between a truck and an SUV, when Johnson shot him.

Armistead examined police reports and diagrams of the shooting scene and found that shell casings from Johnson's Glock were recovered over an area of the slushy parking lot spanning thirty feet. That detail is "inconsistent with Detective Johnson's statements that he had 'emptied his clip' from [a] fixed position," Armistead writes.

Even if Johnson was correct about his position in front of the pinned car at the time of the shooting, Armistead continues, "he had no knowledge that suspect was armed and had no belief that he was armed... the vehicle that Darrell Havens was operating was not an imminent threat to Detective Johnson's safety at the time that he shot Darrell Havens."

Havens has only limited movement in his left arm since the shooting, and his care in the Colorado Department of Corrections is costing the state in excess of $200,000 a year. Last winter, prison officials managed to get the state parole board to grant him an early medical parole, but the parole was abruptly canceled after Arvada police chief Don Wick protested the move. The Arvada city attorney has since offered to rescind objections to the parole if Havens will drop his lawsuit, but Havens declined the deal, since it didn't include any guarantee that he would receive parole.

Although he can't turn the pages of law books without assistance, Havens represented himself in the suit, which has been dismissed for procedural deficiencies. He's since found a Colorado Springs law firm to represent him and is back in court arguing that he should be allowed to proceed with his claims because he was incapacitated when he filed on his own. His attorneys also contend that he didn't receive several notices from the court; a handwriting expert hired by the defense believes that his name was forged on mail logs at the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger has scheduled an evidentiary hearing before ruling whether Havens can pursue his lawsuit against Johnson.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Darrell Havens: Car thief paralyzed by Arvada police shooting in standoff over parole deal."