The same can be said of Weld County, which has experienced four fatal police shootings over the past eight months.
The most recent of these involved Michael Rodriguez, who was shot to death outside a Greeley billiard parlor on January 4 after allegedly threatening responding officers with what turned out to be a nail gun.
The Nineteenth Judicial DA's office has decided not to file criminal charges against any of the law-enforcers involved — a conclusion that's sparked protests in Greeley.
The decision letter in the Rodriguez case, on view below in its entirety, describes the circumstances leading up to the shooting like so:
About 11:20 p.m. on January 4, the letter's narrative states, a 911 call was received from a bartender at Paradise Billiards, 818 31st Street in Evans.
"Please hurry, he's go ta gun," she told the dispatcher. "There is a guy outside with a gun with a girl, and I had to lock her out because I don't want him in here.
"He's got a gun and he told me to just get my bitch ass back inside the bar, or whatever, and then she's on the ground, and I mean, seriously, he said I already called the cops," she continued, subsequently adding, "Now he's got another person that came in.... He got someone who came into the bar, and now he's got them and he's taken them with a gun.... He's taken, I think, one of my other fucking people that came into the bar...and I think he's taken them at gunpoint."
Members of the Evans Police Department raced to the scene; they're not identified in the letter.
At 11:23 p.m., one officer said he saw a man later identified as Rodriguez getting into a white Trailblazer with another party with "what the officer believed was a gun at his side."
The officer requested backup, the report continues. Meanwhile, the Evans cop gave some commands to Rodriguez, who allegedly responded by saying, "Fuck you" and pointing the apparent gun at the officer.
The Evans cop did likewise, pointing a rifle at Rodriguez and flicking the safety off. But he didn't fire "due to the fact he could not see the gun," the letter maintains. Rodriguez then reportedly put his hands back to his side and moved toward the bar's entrance.
Around, an officer from LaSalle who'd received the backup call showed up and saw what he took to be a gun in Rodriguez's hand.
Next, the letter says the Evans officer "believed he heard a round being cycled into the chamber of Rodriguez's gun" around the time the suspect said, "Fuck you, kill me" and leveled the gun at them.
That's when they opened fire. An autopsy revealed that Rodriguez was hit four times — and his blood alcohol level was .142, nearly twice the legal limit.
As noted above, the weapon Rodriguez had wielded was a nail gun — and a series of text messages from November subsequently accessed by authorities raise the possibility that he'd wanted to commit suicide-by-cop at that time. The texts read:
Fuck this I'm going to go get drunk and off myself
I got that fake gun that looks real I get pulled over on pointed at the cops
Told u I got that fake gun I'm going to make them shot me
Was Rodriguez's thought process the same on January 4? And even if he was suicidal, could the situation have been resolved without the taking of a life? Rather than delving into these lines of inquiry, District Attorney Michael J. Rourke focuses on what the officers knew and thought they knew at the time. Here's a key excerpt from the conclusion:
It was clear law enforcement believed Rodriguez was in possession of a firearm when they were responding to the scene. The Evans officer requested back up after arriving on scene to assist in contacting Rodriguez because he believed him to be armed. Witnesses who were in much closer proximity to Rodriguez than the officers also believed he was in possession of a firearm.
Throughout the course of the incident, Rodriguez refused to comply with the commands of the officers. He refused to show them his hands and put down his weapon. Rodriguez ignored these commands and pointed what the officers reasonably believed was handgun at them, cursed at them and told them they are going to have to shoot him. Based on his texts dated December 20, 2014 Rodriguez was well aware of what could occur when one aims a gun or an object similar to a gun at law enforcement. Rodriguez' actions on January 4, 2015 were akin to what he described in the aforementioned texts and it is apparent from witness statements that he wanted the officers and others at the bar to believe he was in fact armed with a firearm.
The officers reasonably believed at that time, based on all of the surrounding facts and circumstances known to them that the LaSalle officer or others were in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury, just as Verkuilen, Manzanares and Balderrama all believed that he was then and there armed with a firearm, and was going to begin shooting Casares or others. Rodriguez would have also reasonably known that the individuals giving him commands were police officers because they identified themselves as such and were driving marked law enforcement vehicles. Verkuilen specifically told dispatch that Rodriguez stated he knew that she had called police, and at the first sight of marked patrol units, Rodriguez told Manzanares to just "go, go, go."
Based on the facts gathered during this investigation and the legal analysis outlined above, I find that the Officers were justified in using lethal force against Michael Ray Rodriguez because they reasonably believed that it was necessary to defend themselves and/or others from Mr. Rodriguez's threatened use of deadly physical force.
This argument hasn't persuaded many of Rodriguez's friends, family and loved ones, particularly given the number of police shootings in Weld County over recent months. A recent public meeting in Greeley on the topic of police shootings attracted a crowd of more than 100 people, according to the Greeley Tribune, with attendees including family members of Rodriguez, Jacinto Zavala, Jimmy Trevino, Raymond Garcia and Raul Alaniz Jr.
All five of these men died in Weld County police shootings.
Here's a CBS4 report about the protests over the lack of charges in the Rodriguez matter, followed by the decision letter.Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
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