Law Enforcement

Hush Money? Glendale Quietly Settles Historic Case About Police Killing

A family photo of the late John Pacheaco Jr. and an excerpt from a social media post spotlighting Officer Chandler Phillips putting on a comic pout after being placed on desk duty following the fatal shooting.
A family photo of the late John Pacheaco Jr. and an excerpt from a social media post spotlighting Officer Chandler Phillips putting on a comic pout after being placed on desk duty following the fatal shooting. Haltzman Law Firm
The trial in a lawsuit filed against two Glendale Police Department officers, Neil McCormick and Chandler Phillips, who killed John Pacheaco on Halloween 2020, was scheduled to get underway on August 29. But the proceeding, which would have made Colorado legal history as the first under a law allowing cops to be held personally liable for wrongful death, didn't happen — and now we know why.

The Haltzman Law Firm's Matthew Haltzman, who represents Pacheaco's estate, confirms that the case has been settled and notes that the details are confidential, preventing the public from knowing anything specific about a payout or any policy changes prompted by the pact.

Pacheaco was unarmed when McCormick and Phillips unloaded nineteen shots into the truck he was driving. While the GPD didn't prohibit officers from firing into a moving vehicle, such bans are becoming more common, with the Denver Police Department putting its own in place following the January 2015 death of seventeen-year-old Jessica Hernandez, who was behind the wheel of a stolen car when law enforcement officers opened fire.

Asked about the settlement, Glendale Police Chief William Haskins said just this: "We will not be responding."

The Pacheaco shooting attracted intense scrutiny of the Glendale department for reasons beyond the facts of the case. In the days following the fatal incident, Phillips made the dubious decision to share a (now-deleted) post joking about being stuck on desk duty during the inquiry. Superimposed over a photo of Phillips wearing a supposed-to-be-comic frown on his face was an image of actor Mark Wahlberg from the 2010 movie The Other Guys declaring, "I'm a peacock! You gotta let me fly!"

Lieutenant Jamie Dillon, a Glendale Police spokesperson, subsequently issued a statement acknowledging that "we are not comfortable with the photo or the captions, and they are in poor taste to say the least. The Pacheaco family has suffered a tremendous loss, and the situation should not be made light of in any way." He added, "The Glendale Police Department apologizes for the actions of our officer. Once it was brought to our attention, we immediately addressed the situation with the officer. This included ordering him to remove the posting."

However, neither Chandler nor McCormick faced departmental discipline for the shooting itself, and Denver District Attorney Beth McCann declined to press criminal charges against them for reasons she explained in a May 2021 decision letter.

Haltzman filed suit that September, and lawyers for Phillips and McCormick responded by putting forward a motion for summary judgment that called for its dismissal. But in a July 25 order, Denver District Court Judge Shelley Gilman rejected this request. "Defendants maintain that their use of deadly force was objectively reasonable," she wrote. "Even employing the analytical framework set forth by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in its excessive force cases, the Court finds that there are genuine issues of material fact precluding entry of summary judgement on this claim."

In an interview with Westword earlier this month, Haltzman discussed his planned use of a provision in SB-217, also known as the Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Act of 2020, passed by the Colorado General Assembly in the wake of protests over the police murder of Minneapolis's George Floyd. "Prior to SB-217, a police officer could use deadly force if they reasonably suspected that a suspect was a threat to themselves, other officers or the public," he said. "Now, under SB-217, a jury will be able to hear that an officer can only use deadly force if that officer faces an imminent threat of danger or there's a substantial risk that the suspect will hurt others. And what we'll be putting in front of a jury is evidence that this wasn't the case."

Pacheaco "didn't have a knife and he didn't have a gun," Haltzman continued. "He was contacted on a welfare check while he was in a vehicle, and in a matter of seconds, he was shot to death simply by virtue of being in that vehicle. Is being in that car enough to be an imminent threat? We argue absolutely not, and obviously, the court believes there's enough evidence to put that issue before a jury."

The settlement prevented jurors from hearing Haltzman's assertions — and thanks to the confidentiality agreement, the public is being kept in the dark about how much Glendale paid in compensation for Pacheaco's death and whether the police department will be making any policy changes.

Click to read The Estate of John Pacheaco Jr. v. Neil McCormick and Chandler Phillips, the John Pacheaco Jr. decision letter, the order in the motion for summary judgment, and the signed version of Senate Bill 20-217.
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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

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