On November 22, 2015, Miguel Martinez was armed, dangerous and wanted in regard to an active warrant (for escape and drugs, which he was on at the time) that made explicit mention of his "violent tendencies."
He was also mentally ill, as Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey acknowledges in his decision letter about the subsequent police shooting that ended with Martinez's death at his grandparents' house, which sustained serious damage during the incident.
Morrissey found that the officers who killed Martinez had acted within the law — something that won't surprise the DA's critics, many of whom have complained about his unwillingness to criminally charge cops in fatal shootings.
This time, however, the homicide took place only after an hours-long standoff and failed negotiations to get aMartinez to give himself up to police after he threatened to take his own life.
"His actions and statements may cause some to conclude this case was 'suicide by cop,'" Morrissey writes. "We know only that Martinez could have prevented his death by complying with the repeated requests and demands that he surrender peacefully."
According to the letter, which is on view below, the first call about Martinez came in at 5:28 p.m. on Sunday the 22nd from an address on the 300 block of South Alcott Street.
The caller was Margaret Martinez, who said her grandson Miguel, who is said to have "sometimes lived with his brothers in a detached garage at the rear of the main house," had a gun and was issuing threats at a sibling.
"I don't think he'll shoot him," Margaret said. "He's just acting smart." She added, "I'm 80 years old. Just forget about it."
Instead, officers were dispatched to the home to discover that Miguel had shot himself in the leg and didn't want medical aid. He's quoted as saying that he "wanted to bleed to death and just die."
Margaret subsequently told officers that Miguel "suffered from schizophrenia, was bipolar and had not been taking his medications."
About the gunshot, one of Miguel's brothers quoted him as saying "that he had shot himself by accident and that he was in much pain, adding that he had ingested heroin and 'meth speedballs' to deal with the pain and that he was 'going to solder the [bullet] hole shut because he was losing a lot of blood. That one of his best friends taught him how to solder the hole shut.'"
Miguel wasn't cooperative with police. When an officer knocked on the garage door, his response was "Fuck you! Go away!"
No chance, since, by then, police had learned about the felony warrants in Miguel's name.
Before long, an officer was able to reach Miguel on the phone. Here's the account of that conversation from the decision letter:
[Martinez said] “I would rather bleed out in here or make you kill me than go back to prison.” [Martinez] then went on to say that he had used a lot of heroin and methamphetamine and was not afraid to die. [Martinez] then repeated his threat to make the police shoot him. I was able to get [Martinez] to talk about his wound in an effort to determine the seriousness of the injury and the potential danger he was in. [Martinez] described his wound but stated that it was not pulsing and was just a steady flow from his leg. I offered [Martinez] medical assistance if he would peacefully come out of the residence. [Martinez] refused to come out and stated, “I’m gonna die in here. I have and [sic] AK47 pointed at the door, and if you come in I will shoot you.” [Martinez] then hung the phone up on me.
Negotiations continued into the evening, with Miguel complaining if he saw any officers too near the garage windows — and thanks to a SWAT deployment, there were plenty of them.
Sometime after 7:55 p.m., "[Martinez]...told me he was holding a loaded SKS [a high powered rifle] and that he had another gun nearby which he had disassembled to make it safe," one officer maintained, adding, "He stated that he had pushed the refrigerator in front of the door. [Martinez] stated he was willing to come out, but he was afraid that the cops were going to kill him. I assured [him] that his safety was my priority, and that if he did what he was directed to do, he would not be injured."
At times, Miguel said he was going to surrender as soon as he could "catch his breath, or smoke a blunt, or calm down first," one officer maintained.
But around 10 p.m., leaders of the crisis negotiation team "decided that the approach they had been pursuing was not fruitful," the letter states. That's when a key detective was "directed to become more forceful with [Miguel] and start pushing him to come out of the home."
This tack caused Miguel to become more agitated, and around 10:30 p.m., the officers began moving toward the possible "deployment of chemical agents."
The plan "was to introduce gas through windows on the north and south side of the garage
simultaneously by firing 40 mm gas munitions through those windows, with the hope that Martinez
would come out of the garage rather than being overcome," the letter notes — but it didn't work.
So the Metro SWAT commanders ordered the use of an armored vehicle called the "Bearcat," which made a hole in the door on the west side of the garage to allow for the insertion of a "burn box" that "would emit substantially more gas than the 40 mm canisters" that had been previously deployed.
Once the hole was opened — and as you can see from the photos in this post, which are included in the decision letter, it was quite a hole — officers caught sight of Miguel lying on his side while holding a black semi-automatic handgun.
They began shouting, "Gun!," after which they thought they heard a "pop."
In the end, Miguel shot twice, with one bullet striking the ceiling and another winding up in a wall. In contrast, the two officers fired sixteen and seventeen times, respectively, killing Miguel in the process.
Based on this account, Morrissey deemed the shooting legally justified. His conclusion reads in part:
Martinez barricaded himself in a building after telling family and friends he was suicidal. He had threatened his brothers with a handgun and had told his ex-girlfriend and members of his family that he had shot himself in the leg, that “he would either bleed to death or shoot it out with police before going back to jail.” 18 He made it clear to Officer Akins during a phone conversation early in the stand-off that he “would rather bleed out in here or make you kill me than go back to prison.”
These were the facts with which Denver police officers were confronted....
This case, yet again, points out the tragic impacts of drug abuse and mental illness on the criminal justice system as officers were called to confront a subject who was under the influence of illegal controlled substances, and, in this instance, appears to have suffered from some psychosis. These conditions apparently led Martinez to confront highly trained police officers in a situation he must have known he could not win. His actions and statements may cause some to conclude this case was “suicide by cop.” We know only that Martinez could have prevented his death by complying with the repeated requests and demands that he surrender peacefully.
Look below to see a booking photo of Miguel Martinez, a report from 7News broadcast following the incident and the decision letter.
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