How Pissing in Public Led to Boulder Car Chase, Crash, Armored Vehicle Standoff

How in the hell did a suspect in a public-urination case lead to a chase involving a Boulder deputy, a subsequent car crash and a brief standoff situation resolved following the deployment of a BearCat, an armored personnel carrier originally designed for military use?

It's complicated.

The incident, which happened just after midnight on November 14 in Boulder County, remains under investigation, and thus far, there's been no finding of wrongdoing on the part of the deputy in question. But the incident showcases numerous controversial policing issues, including questions about when to launch a potentially dangerous vehicular pursuit of suspects who may be guilty of only minor crimes and municipal departments' use of equipment more associated with wars than domestic policing.

Commander Mike Wagner, a spokesman for the Boulder County Sheriff Office, outlines the case, which involved two eighteen-year-olds, Jonathon Hernandez-Cervantez and Anthony Garcia-Castilleja.

"A deputy was driving by — he was actually going to fuel up at the jail — just after midnight when he sees a car [a gray, mid-2000s Volkswagen Jetta] looking really suspicious," Wagner says. "He pulls off over by the trailer-park entrance at 55th and Valmont and sees a guy urinating next to the car. He goes over to talk to him, and the male gets in the car — and starts the car right away."

At that point, Wagner continues, "the deputy asks him to stop, but the guy's not listening — and the deputy sees the passenger make some kind of furtive movement, mimicking like he has a weapon. So the deputy starts giving more direct commands, but they're ignored. And the vehicle takes off at a high rate of speed down 55th southbound."

The deputy immediately gave chase, but not for long. The suspect vehicle crashed near Arapahoe and 55th, which Wagner calculates as being "less than a mile" from where the original contact took place.

Other officers quickly showed up at the scene to assist the deputy, "and they're giving the guys challenges, saying, 'Get out of the car! Get out of the car!'" Wagner notes. "But they refused to extricate themselves from the car, so we called for our BearCat."

The BearCat is prominently featured in Do Not Resist, a new documentary that screened during the just-completed Denver Film Festival. The acclaimed film is critical of a program in which federal government funding provides military-style equipment to local police agencies and suggests that having such gear provides a difficult-to-resist temptation to roll out the stuff in potentially inappropriate situations. But Wagner characterizes the circumstances of the Boulder matter differently. In this instance, he believes the BearCat actually served as a safety device.

"We don't want anyone to get hurt, them or us," he points out. "So we want to slow things down, and one tool we have to do that is the armored rescue vehicle. It's for defensive purposes, so we're able to get a lot closer to them without risking any injuries to deputies or staff, so that they can really engage the suspects. And if these guys had chosen to use some kind of weapon, they're protected."

The two teens surrendered after approximately fifteen to twenty minutes, Wagner calculates; first contact was made at around 12:05 a.m., the BearCat arrived about ten minutes later, and the two were in custody by 12:33 a.m.

The weapon suspected by the deputy? No such item was found in the car, at the initial stop area or along the route of the chase, despite what Wagner refers to as "line searches." However, there was an open container inside the Jetta, raising the prospect that the passenger, Garcia-Castilleja, was simply hiding booze.

Hernandez-Cervantez, the driver, was medically cleared at the scene and taken to Boulder County Jail on suspicion of vehicular eluding, DUI, reckless driving and possession of an open alcoholic beverage. For his part, Garcia-Castilleja was treated at an area hospital for what's described as the evaluation of pre-existing injuries before being kicked loose.

According to Wagner, the case "is part of an ongoing investigation. There's the criminal investigation into what was going on, the circumstances behind what these two guys were doing and why they responded the way they did, and a parallel administrative investigation that occurs in cases like these, to determine if the deputy's decision-making was within policy, if it was reasonable, all of those things. That's standard procedure."

He adds that the use of the BearCat by the Boulder County Sheriff Office isn't routine.

Particularly when the initial offense is public urination. Here's the booking photo for Hernandez-Cervantez.