How Cop John Ruddy Was Hit by Friendly Fire During Phillip Munoz Gun-Down

This past December, we told you about the fatal police shooting of Phillip Munoz and the wounding of a SWAT officer, John Ruddy.

Most readers likely surmised that Munoz shot Ruddy before losing his own life — but that wasn't the case.

According to a decision letter by Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey announcing that no criminal charges would be filed against the two SWAT technicians who squeezed triggers in the incident, Ruddy was hit in the leg by friendly fire.

However, the bullet that struck Ruddy first passed through Munoz. The term used in the letter, on view below in its entirety, is "perforated."

As of late November, the letter notes, Munoz was a wanted man; an Aurora Police Department bulletin revealed that he had warrants in his name for allegedly shooting an ex-girlfriend, attempting to kidnap and shoot another ex-girlfriend and green-lighting an execution effort.

His criminal history included attempted homicide, assault and more, and additional information, printed in bold red letters on the bulletin, stated: "ARMED AND DANGEROUS ALWAYS ARMED ACCORDING TO CI, GKI GANGSTER, POSSIBLE DEALING METH AND HEROIN."

Cut to December 2, when investigators received a tip that Munoz was visiting his father, Steve Munoz, at an assisted-living facility at 3805 West 26th Avenue.

Shortly thereafter, a slew of cops, including SWAT teamers and a couple of K-9 units, were dispatched to the location, the report says.

Before long, Munoz was spotted. He was wearing "what appeared to be a Denver Sheriff's uniform shirt complete with a shoulder patch," the narrative continues.

At around 3 p.m., Phillip, Steve and a female companion exited the elder Munoz's apartment and moved down a hallway, as seen in these surveillance images captured inside the building.

Shortly thereafter, Munoz and his two companions climbed into a silver Dodge Charger and headed south on Newton Street from 26th Avenue, where SWAT officers tried to block possible escape routes.

In an excerpt from the letter, SWAT technician Kent Pietrafeso describes what happened next from his perspective:
As I continued northbound on Newton, I observed the silver Dodge Charger traveling southbound at a high rate of speed towards our police vehicle. The suspect vehicle then attempted to turn eastbound in the 3700 block alley between W. 25th Avenue and W. 26th Avenue. I then with my front bumper rammed the front passenger area of the suspect vehicle. The rear of the suspect vehicle spun south and the vehicle came to a rest next to a garage facing westbound. I continued to push the suspect vehicle up against the garage in an attempt to keep him from driving away. I could see the suspect through the windshield in the drivers [sic] seat. He was moving around in the seat and appeared to [be] reaching for something. The suspect then put his vehicle in reverse and was able to pull away from my vehicle and drove eastbound in the alley at a very high rate of speed.
While heading in reverse, Munoz is said to have crossed Meade Street before careening out of control and crashing into a garage on the east side of Meade. SWAT personnel responded by pinning in Munoz's ride.

Here are photos from the report showing the garage.

Steve and the woman, later ID'd as Brittany Talmich, quickly climbed out of the car and were taken into custody.

But Phillip remained inside and allegedly continued to rev the Charger's engine while shouting, "I'm going to shoot myself!"

Thanks to tinted windows, officers couldn't immediately tell if Munoz had a gun to his head. So the officers fired what are described as "numerous 'less lethal' 40 mm rounds in largely futile attempts to break the windows so they could see inside the vehicle."

Over the minutes that followed, officers resorted to throwing bricks and pieces of paving stone at the glass, and these efforts finally broke the rear window, as well as one on the side.

Here's a photo showing the broken window in the back.

At that point, officers noticed the smell of gas, raising the fear of a leak and a possible explosion.

The scent of gas was building when Munoz crawled out of the car, holding a gun to his temple.

A SWAT technician reacted by firing 40 mm rounds in his direction, striking him in the leg, in the buttocks and, finally, in the hand.

This last shot caused the gun to fly out of Munoz's grip. But it landed close enough to him that he was able to grab it again and flee after sticking the weapon in his mouth, the report states.

Next, Munoz managed to scale and jump over a six-foot wooden fence, the gun still in his mouth.

In response, two SWAT technicians, James Bradley and Brett Titus, decided the time was right to switch from less lethal force to their hand guns.

This is Bradley's version of the events that followed:
He seems to stop. And, at this, before then I never, never saw the gun -– he was just running like this. And then, at some point, he just, he, it looks like his demeanor changes from just running. And, he, now I see him push a pistol, a black pistol, away. A semi-automatic gun with, like, away from his body. And now I see gun and my brain registers gun and I think I yell “gun!” And it looks to me like he could, you know, he could either spin in my direction, this way, and, or, he could come back around to me. And right when I’m thinking he could just turn this way to me, it seem like he does one of these [demonstrating] like this and, fearing for my life, I just, I fire. I believe I fired three rounds, to the best of my knowledge.
Titus shot, too, and Munoz went down as a police dog raced in his direction and took him under control; he died as a result of his wounds. But also felled was Ruddy.

Here's another photo from the report, featuring text from the letter describing Titus's position....

...and a second image with additional details about wheres and whens:

The report states: "The positions of the Technicians Bradley and Titus at the time they discharged their firearms, coupled with the forensic evidence detailed, below suggest that one of the rifle rounds fired by Technician Bradley perforated Munoz’s body and then struck Technician Ruddy in the upper leg."

Nonetheless, DA Morrissey doesn't believe either Bradley or Titus committed any criminal acts.

"For twenty minutes, the officers made repeated efforts to gain Munoz’s compliance and have him surrender peaceably," Morrissey writes: "Officers made repeated attempts to reason with him and repeatedly deployed less-lethal devices in attempts to disarm him and get him to comply with their requests. At every juncture, Munoz refused to comply. When officers first approached him, he drove away, going so far as to back down an alley at high speed when it appeared he was trapped between police cars coming from opposite directions. When he crashed into a house and was pinned in by police vehicles, he 'revved' the engine and tried to drive forwards and backwards in vain efforts to push one of the police vehicles out of the way. When he got out of the Charger, armed with a handgun, he refused to put the gun down despite repeated pleas by officers. And when an officer managed to disarm him by hitting his gun hand with a less-lethal 40 mm projectile, he quickly grabbed the gun back and then he climbed over a 6 foot fence, holding his gun in his mouth, in an effort to flee. Any reasonable police officer confronted with these facts, would conclude that Munoz was desperate and was not going to surrender peacefully. "

Below, see two more images from the report, featuring DA's office text, as well as a Denver Police Department video of a press conference about the incident and the complete decision letter.

Phillip Munoz Officer-Involved Shooting Letter

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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