Jarrett Berlin unarmed when SWAT team shot him, cohort Tara Salazar says he was massacred

Update: On Friday, the Lakewood Police Department confirmed that Jarrett Berlin, shot and killed by a SWAT team after a standoff at the Bentley Apartments, was unarmed at the time of his death. Now, Tara Salazar, the woman who was allegedly in the car he used to get away from a gas-station robbery that led to his death, says she repeatedly told police he didn't have a weapon, and accuses officers of massacring him.

The scoop comes courtesy of 9News, which scored a jailhouse interview with Salazar. Also commenting: LPD spokesman Steve Davis, also interviewed during our original reporting on view below, who says that relying on assurances from a suspect or witness about a gun or lack thereof can have deadly consequences. He emphasizes that Berlin made a provocative move by thrusting his hand into his pocket, and sees the fact that multiple officers fired simultaneously as evidence that his actions appeared threatening.

Here's the 9News report, followed by earlier coverage:

Update, 8 p.m. December 10: The man killed in a faceoff with police at the Bentley Apartments yesterday has now been identified as Jarrett Berlin. His accomplice, Lakewood Police say, was Tara Shalome Salazar, who's now in custody. Look below for large photos of Berlin and Salazar, as well as an updated release from the LPD, which confirms that Berlin was not armed at the time he was shot. Was this a case of suicide by cop?

That's certainly one way to read the details from the LPD below. That's followed by our original coverage:

Man Shot by SWAT Team Identified

December 3, 2010

Lakewood police have identified the man who was shot yesterday by a SWAT team as 27-year-old Jarrett Berlin (03-14-83). The SWAT team was comprised of Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputies and Lakewood Police Agents. Berlin's female accomplice was identified as 34-year-old Tara Shalome Salazar (12-08-76).

At about 12:50 pm yesterday, Lakewood police were responding to the 1400 block of S. Sheridan Blvd. to investigate a report of a man who was seen taking a cash register from a gas station at that location. Witnesses indicated that the man entered a vehicle driven by a female and the couple was leaving.

Responding agents spotted the suspect vehicle but then lost sight of it for a short time. It was spotted again on S. Wadsworth at which point the stolen cash register was thrown from the vehicle. Again agents lost sight of the vehicle for a short time before hearing reports of a hit and run accident in the area of S. Wadsworth Blvd and Mansfield Ave. Responding agents arrived at the scene in time to see the two suspects now running on foot. They entered an apartment complex in the 7800 block of Mansfield Ave. The female suspect (Salazar) was capture and taken into custody. The male suspect (Berlin) was seen going into the apartment complex. A perimeter was quickly established and the SWAT team responded.

After several minutes of searching, Berlin who was currently on parole from the Colorado Department of Corrections was located and confronted by the SWAT team members on a stairwell landing. Team members repeatedly commanded Berlin to raise his hands which he initially did. Seconds later Berlin told SWAT team members that they would have to shoot him. He then dropped his hands, turned sideways and quickly reached in his pocket. Several members of the SWAT team fired numerous times hitting Berlin. He was pronounced dead on scene.

Although at least one witness had indicated that they thought Berlin was armed, a subsequent search found no weapon in Berlin's possession.

Jefferson County Sheriff's Investigators continue to investigate the possibility that the couple were involved in a bank robbery that occurred in their jurisdiction earlier in the day.

Salazar faces charges of robbery, criminal impersonation, hit & run, eluding and numerous traffic offenses. She made her first appearance in Jefferson County Court this morning.

The Jefferson County Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) continues to investigate the shooting, which is standard practice in all police involved shootings. The CIRT team is made up of investigators from many law enforcement agencies in the First Judicial District. The CIRT team will submit their final report to the district attorney upon completion for final review.

Original item, 8:11 a.m. December 3: At this writing, there are still many unanswered questions about the police shooting of a robbery suspect, and the arrest of his female companion, at the Bentley Apartments in Lakewood yesterday.

Lakewood Police Department spokesman Steve Davis promises that more details are coming about an incident that started with the broad-daylight theft of a gas station cash register.

Here's what Davis can share thus far.

"At a gas station at 1495 South Sheridan [a Conoco], a citizen saw the male suspect leaving with a cash register and called us at 12:50 p.m.," Davis says. "The suspect actually left the gas station with it, and got into a car with a female in it. I believe she was driving.

"There was also an alarm from the gas station -- and we had some units very close. They spotted their car and started following, but it was apparent the suspects must have seen the patrol car behind them, because they increased their speed."

The patrol officers behind them did likewise, but, Davis continues, "one of the sergeants monitoring the situation immediately told our people there would be no pursuit. So there never was a high-speed pursuit, and we lost a visual on the vehicle for quite a while. But we had so many units coming into the area that we picked up the car again on Wadsworth near Morrison -- and we saw a register thrown from the vehicle near Wadsworth and Yale." Davis hasn't heard if the register was empty upon its recovery by officers.

Next, the LPD received a report "of a hit-and-run accident at Wadsworth and Mansfield -- and the description of the vehicle matched the suspects' car," Davis notes. "We arrived just in time to see the car leaving the scene, and when the officers tried to stop it, both occupants jumped from the car and took off on foot. They caught the female and took her into custody, but the male suspect took off into the Bentley Apartments at Mansfield and Wadsworth."

At that point, Davis goes on, "we assembled as many officers as we could, including deputies from the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, because we felt confident the suspect was still in the area, and in the apartment building. So we set up a perimeter and called out a SWAT team made up of Lakewood officers and Jefferson County Sheriff's deputies, and we went door to door in the apartment building. And we made reverse-911 calls to residents in the area, telling them to stay inside and lock all their doors.

"Eventually, they located the suspect on, I believe, the top floor of one building. He made his way to a deck on the back side of that apartment and was confronted by SWAT team members. It's my understanding that at first, he had his hands up -- but then, he made some type of movement that was enough of a threat that more than one officer fired at the suspect. I don't know how many times he was hit, but he was pronounced dead at the scene."

The time of the shooting was 2:50 p.m. -- two hours after the first report of the incident. Davis doesn't know if the man had a weapon in his possession at the time he was shot, but he says an earlier report suggested that he had a gun in his waistband.

Thus far, the coroner's office has not released the name of the dead man pending notification of family, and the female suspect's identity hasn't come out yet, either. Davis hopes to provide that information before day's end, as well as to release more information about the suspects, who unconfirmed reports suggest may have been involved with another robbery yesterday prior to the fateful one at the South Sheridan Conoco.

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Azimdzhon Mazhidov, 15 others from Russia, Tajikistan charged with ripping off $300,000."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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