DPD: Broken Bus Window Leads to AR-15 Killing of Armed Suspect

Witness video shows the suspect being confronted by at RTD officer July 1 on Lincoln Street.
Witness video shows the suspect being confronted by at RTD officer July 1 on Lincoln Street. Steven B/Fox31 via YouTube
Editor's note: The man killed in a confrontation with police on July 1, as described below, has been identified as Christopher Barela, 22. He had a long history of mostly minor crimes and confrontations with police. Continue for our previous coverage.

A broken window on an RTD bus led to a confrontation with an armed suspect near CBS4's studio on the 1000 block of Lincoln Street that ended when a Denver police officer shot him dead using an AR-15 rifle during rush hour on the morning of July 1.

This information and much more was provided by Denver Police Department division chief Joe Montoya and RTD transit police chief Robert Grado during a July 2 press conference (see it below).

Around 7:10 a.m., their account began, the thus-far-unidentified suspect allegedly caused a disturbance on an RTD bus somewhere between Alameda and Lincoln and First and Lincoln. A passenger reported the issue (using an app touted by an RTD spokesperson back in January 2017, following a number of violent incidents on city buses), which led to the broken window.

The suspect was asked to leave the bus and did so. But the alert quickly reached an RTD transit officer, a veteran of more than three decades in law enforcement who's worked for the agency for approximately three and a half years.

Near the intersection of Seventh and Lincoln, the RTD officer confronted the suspect, who, as seen in the screen capture from a witness video at the top of this post, was wearing a black hat and a black trenchcoat and had a suitcase-like bag in his possession. At that point, the suspect produced a handgun — something he had not done on the bus.

Instead of immediately opening fire on the suspect, the RTD officer attempted to de-escalate the situation; a DPD detective who was passing by and happened upon the scene did likewise. But near Eighth and Lincoln, as he was heading north along the west side of the street, the suspect pointed the gun skyward and squeezed off a round into the air, making it clear that the weapon was real. Over the next couple of blocks, the man is said to have waved the gun around, potentially endangering people at nearby businesses that were preparing to open for the day.

Here's the video from yesterday's press conference.

The RTD officer continued to follow behind the suspect, according to the DPD chronology, but he also stayed in communication with Denver police officers racing to the scene — and around Tenth and Lincoln, he handed over operational control to the DPD.

Shortly thereafter, a Denver police officer — he's said to have been on the force for eighteen years and had never before been part of a scenario like this one — began walking parallel to the suspect on the east side of the street while issuing commands to "drop the gun." The suspect is reported to have responded "No" on multiple occasions.

With both vehicular and foot traffic picking up, the DPD officer, armed with an AR-15 rifle, took a tactical position behind a tree as the suspect passed a parking lot with only one or two cars in it. "He decided it was the best time to confront him," Montoya said. "The suspect pulled up the gun, shot a round in the air and started to level the gun in the direction of the officer. And the officer fired a couple of shots, and that ended the confrontation."

As noted by Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the entire incident lasted around five minutes.

The suspect's name is being withheld pending a search for family to notify. If no members are found within the next day or two, Montoya speculated, the Denver coroner's office would identify him at that point.

The monikers of the Denver police officer who fired the fatal shots and the RTD officer who originally faced off against the suspect haven't been made public, either. The former is on administrative leave, as is standard procedure following a police shooting, while the latter is taking some time off in keeping with what the RTD's Grado described as "best practices."

The suspect is said to have had "minimal criminal history," and Montoya declined to speculate if he was suffering from mental illness or might have been a member of the local homeless community. His background, and the incident as a whole, remains under investigation.

In the meantime, Montoya expressed relief that innocent bystanders weren't injured in the incident. "Thank goodness it was as early as it was," he said. "You think eleven or noon in that area, it would have been an extremely difficult situation to handle. However, having the RTD officer in that close proximity and armed really did help manage the situation."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts