Crime

Inside Denver's 2021 Gang-Related Homicides

Booking photos of Tlaloc Chavez and Elias Chavez, who have been charged with two of Denver's four gang-related homicides in 2021.
Booking photos of Tlaloc Chavez and Elias Chavez, who have been charged with two of Denver's four gang-related homicides in 2021. Denver Police Department
This is the third in a series of stories about Denver homicides in 2021. Click to read "Most Dangerous Denver Police Districts in 2021" and "Tragic Details of Denver's 28 Unsolved Homicides in 2021."

Gangs are often blamed for rising violent-death tolls in urban areas. But despite Denver's history of dirty dealing with gangs, documented in last year's The HOLLY: Five Bullets, One Gun, and the Struggle to Save an American Neighborhood by author Julian Rubinstein, police statistics for the Mile High City paint a different picture.

Of the 96 homicides that took place in Denver during 2021 — the highest number in forty years — the DPD considers only four deaths in three incidents to be gang-related. Moreover, the department linked no homicides to gangs after early May.

While "homicide" and "murder" are often treated as synonyms, "homicide" is officially defined as the killing of a human being by another person, whether intentionally or accidentally. As a result, homicide can encompass a variety of crimes in addition to murder, including manslaughter and more, and can be deemed legally justified if an individual is found to have acted in self-defense.

The Denver Police uses four major categories to describe the status of homicide investigations: "Cleared by arrest," when the DPD believes the perpetrators have been found; "Cleared" or "Cleared — Refused," because either the Denver District Attorney's Office has decided that prosecution isn't warranted or the guilty party is no longer alive, as in a murder-suicide scenario; and "Open," if no arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing. But one of the four gang homicides last year offers a twist.

The first incident that Denver detectives tied to gangs last year happened on January 22, 2021, near the intersection of West Alameda Avenue and South Pecos Street, where Paul Baca, 45, died after being shot. The DPD hasn't released details about the crime or anything about potential suspects, and the case remains open.

That's not the situation with the fatal shootings on April 1 of 59-year-old David Lara and 22-year-old DeAngelo Tafoya on the 300 block of South Federal Boulevard. Shortly thereafter, Elias Chavez and Tlaloc Chavez, both 22, were arrested on suspicion of murder, and on April 13, after they were formally charged, the Denver District Attorney's Office summarized what had happened on April 1. Denver police officers had responded to a 911 call involving a tan SUV, and when they arrived at the scene, they found the two victims at a bus stop. Lara and Tafoya were transported to Denver Health Medical Center, but they didn't respond to treatment. By April 2, the suspects were in custody.

The last gang-related homicide victim in Denver in 2021 was Saul Pineda, sixteen; he was slain by a handgun in a parking lot at 3975 North Peoria Way on May 9. Once again, the DPD has not shared any information beyond these basic details, including the status of the case. However, the department confirms the existence of a juvenile suspect — and owing to this individual's age, no information about possible charges or prosecution is being made public.

The Baca, Lara and Tafoya homicides took place in Denver Police District 4, which roughly corresponds to the southwest part of the city, while Pineda died in District 5, in the northeast section. All four of the victims were Hispanic males.

Continue to see summaries of the four gang-related homicides acknowledged by the DPD in 2021; included are age, demographic information, the time and date of the crime, the address and Denver Police District where it took place, and the type of weapon used, as well as location description and suspect information (if available).

1. Paul Baca, 45
Hispanic male
January 22, 2021
4:31 p.m.
2021 West Alameda Avenue/South Pecos Street
District 4
Firearm
Highway/Road/Alley/Street/Sidewalk
No suspect information listed
Open

2. David Lara, 59
Hispanic male
April 1, 2021
4:06 p.m.
300 South Federal Boulevard
District 4
Firearm
Highway/Road/Alley/Street/Sidewalk
Suspect: Tlaloc Chavez, 22
Cleared by arrest

3. DeAngelo Tafoya, 22
Hispanic male
April 1, 2021
4:06 p.m.
300 South Federal Boulevard
District 4
Firearm
Highway/Road/Alley/Street/Sidewalk
Suspect: Elias Chavez, 22
Cleared by arrest

4. Saul Pineda, 16
Hispanic male
May 9, 2021
4:22 a.m.
3975 North Peoria Way
District 5
Handgun
Parking lot
No location description listed
No suspect information listed
No status listed
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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