It was a simple plan. Get the kid to bring a stolen car to an isolated parking lot, then tase his ass and take him down.
No chase. No shooting. No fuss.
Arvada detective Bill Johnson, the lead investigator on the case, went over the plan in a room crowded with members of the Denver Metro Auto Theft Team, a group of police officers from multiple agencies working on hot-car rings and related crimes. For this DMATT sting operation on a snowy day in January 2007, Johnson had summoned seven other Arvada cops, four Colorado State Patrol officers, a DEA agent, two Lone Tree detectives, investigators from Mountain View, Denver and Colorado State Parks -- eighteen in all, armed with shotguns, rifles and sidearms.
The bust would go down behind the SuperTarget at 50th and Kipling, Johnson explained. The suspect was described in intel documents as part of "a very active auto theft group operation in the metro area," but he was basically a target of opportunity. Just a few hours earlier, Arvada police had arrested a 28-year-old white male in a stolen Honda and found some methamphetamine. Eager to cut a deal, the man had offered to give up both his dealer and the person who'd sold him the car, a guy named Daryl.
Detective Johnson worked the phones and soon identified the target as Darrell Havens, age nineteen. Havens was 5' 5", barely a hundred pounds, but he was one busy carhop. He had arrests scattered across the metro area; at least half a dozen outstanding warrants for crimes ranging from burglary to fraud to auto theft; and a list of known associates tied to meth rings, gang activity, burglaries of equipment and copper wire at the former Gates Rubber factory, and identity theft -- a shitstorm of drug-related property crimes blowing from Lone Tree to Arvada, begging for DMATT action.
By the time of the briefing, Johnson had learned a few important details about Havens. He knew that the kid's right arm was paralyzed, the result of a traffic accident on a stolen motorcycle months earlier. He knew that, while Havens had no history of violent crimes, he sometimes carried a gun and was an expert driver, capable of dangerous stunts, especially when fleeing police or people who'd discovered him in the act of stealing their ride. And the informant had warned the team that Havens wouldn't sit still for a bust. He would do anything to escape, including ramming cars.
The DMATT officers weren't worried. They had several heavy trucks and SUVs at their disposal, including a GMC Yukon, a Jeep Liberty and a monster line of Chevrolets: a Blazer, a Silverado, a Trailblazer and a K2500 pickup. Havens would be driving his latest acquisition, a 2006 Audi A6 worth around $35,000, which the informant had arranged to buy for a couple hundred bucks and an eightball of meth. All the cops had to do was wait for Havens to show up in the area behind the Target, a winding and deserted canyon flanked by a high retaining wall, then move in and arrest him.
"Our intention was to get some big trucks and block his butt in so he can't get out," Johnson told a Lakewood detective a few hours later.
But not much went according to plan that day. In the wake of two heavy snowstorms, the parking lot was a treacherous mix of ice and slush. Originally scheduled for early afternoon, the sting had to be postponed for hours. Havens didn't arrive until after sunset.
By the time it was over, the tight corner where the block-and-tase maneuver was supposed to take place was littered with scraped and battered undercover vehicles, huddled together like the wrecks of a demolition derby.
The crumpled Audi was in the center of the scrum, its windshield starred with bullet holes.
Bill Johnson never got the chance to use his taser. Instead, facing down a suspect that he believed was trying to run him over, he fired nine rounds into the Audi from a few feet away, emptying the clip of his .45 Glock. Three of the bullets struck Havens, hitting him in the chest, neck and jaw. Two lodged near his spine. Already crippled on his right side, the shooting left Havens a quadriplegic, with only very limited movement in his left arm.
The bust got brief play on the news that night, then nothing. The shooting of a car thief trying to flee cops was not a big deal. Interviewed that evening by officers from Jefferson County's Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT), which investigates police shootings, Johnson had difficulty recalling Darrell's last name, which he'd learned only hours earlier.
Havens spent months in critical-care facilities. In 2008 he pleaded guilty to theft charges and attempted assault, part of a deal that landed him twenty years in prison and avoided a trial for attempted murder of a police officer. Then he was gone -- but not entirely forgotten, it turns out, by his acquaintances in law enforcement.
Last fall, barely into the second year of his sentence, Havens applied for a special medical parole. The unusual move was initiated not by him, but by Colorado Department of Corrections staff, concerned about the challenge of meeting his medical needs in prison for the next decade or two; his current care is estimated to be costing the state in excess of $200,000 a year. The state parole board agreed that he didn't pose a risk to public safety and approved a plan that would have transferred Havens to a friend's house in Denver, where he would receive nursing care and constant supervision.
But in February, two days before his scheduled release, Havens learned that his parole had been canceled. Parole officials have since acknowledged that the decision was reversed after strong protests from the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office and the Arvada Police Department.
"I received some significant criticism for letting him go early," parole board chairman Dave Michaud told Westword a few weeks ago, shortly before he retired. "Their position is that he tried to kill one of their officers."
It probably didn't help Havens's chances for parole that he's filed a lawsuit against the detective who shot him, claiming violations of his constitutional rights. (Although Havens needs help turning pages of law books, he's acting as his own attorney.) The CIRT investigation cleared all the officers involved, and Jeffco DA Scott Storey concluded that Johnson was justified in using deadly force. But Havens has another version of what happened in that back lot, out of sight of any video cameras. His account has its problems, but it does raise questions about police sting tactics and just what kind of threat an unarmed nineteen-year-old posed that night.
And one question that looms larger than all the rest: In the case of Darrell Havens, fast and furious car thief sentenced to a life of immobility, how much punishment is enough?
Now 22 years old, Darrell Lee Havens steers his way into the visitors' room at the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility at a steady clip of two miles per hour.
He guides the joystick with a left hand balled in a fist that he can't unclench. His right arm, shrunken and atrophied, hangs useless in a brace. His left leg jerks spasmodically for almost two minutes, as if counting time at a dervish hoedown, and then abruptly stops. He still has some sensation in all his limbs, he says; he just can't control them.
The motorized wheelchair came with him to Fort Lyon eighteen months ago. A contoured cushion designed to keep him from flopping over -- he's developed severe spinal curvature since he was shot -- is worn and sagging. The chair's charger shorts out, Havens says. He sometimes arrives too late for meals in the mess hall because the chair moves so slowly when the power is fading.
"It's pretty messed up," he notes. "It hasn't been maintained. There's a bunch of screws and knobs missing. The only thing they've fixed on it is the tilt."
A former veterans' hospital, Fort Lyon is now the state's primary housing for elderly and disabled felons. Havens occupies one of 25 beds in the special medical needs unit, staffed by a team of nurses, nurse practitioners and "offender care aides" -- other inmates who do a lot of the grunt work, such as bathing the bed-bound and emptying bedpans. A doctor visits every few weeks. Among prisoners, the unit is known as "the graveyard."
According to acting warden Kellie Wasko, there's rarely a spare bed in the unit. Far more prisoners need round-the-clock care than the system can accommodate. Among the current residents, Havens is considered one of the most seriously disabled. "He gets quite significant assistance," Wasko says. "But we did purchase adaptive equipment for him because he wants to feed himself."
Fort Lyon has no on-grounds physical therapy available to the disabled; it does have a "therapy room" where staff assist with repetitious range-of-motion exercises that are supposed to keep a mobility impairment from getting worse. Havens no longer goes there, though, after clashes with staff. "They've told me that I'm too much work," he says. "Some people get a kick out of seeing inmates suffer."
Havens has a stubborn independent streak that poses particular challenges to his keepers. He hasn't been written up for any bad behavior since his arrival, but he hasn't resigned himself to his cage within a cage, either. He's used to fending for himself. He's done so since an early age, when his family fell apart and he had to start making his own decisions -- not many of them good ones.
He was born in Canon City, the youngest of four, but never stayed in one place for long. When he was six, his father, Gerald, went to prison on drug charges. Darrell's mom moved the family to Colorado Springs. A year later, the kids were taken away from her because of her own pending methamphetamine case.
Darrell and his siblings were passed from one foster home to another. His brother Gerry went to a group home; his sister Chrystal ran away. Darrell was grounded frequently, until he, too, ran away. At fourteen he was put on a Greyhound to Denver; nobody would tell him where he was headed. He ended up at his mom's house, reunited with his brother and sisters.
His mother no longer used drugs, but she worked long hours as a waitress and could provide little supervision. To the extent that he had anyone who tried to look out for him, it was Chrystal, five years his senior.
"Since day one, I've pretty much been his mom," she says now. "I am the one that potty-trained him. I was the one who disciplined him. When he was wrong, I made sure he knew he was wrong. But at one point he stopped coming to me. We all did our little thing. I had a boyfriend and got pregnant. Darrell got addicted to crack cocaine when he was fourteen."
Havens talks about "hanging out with the wrong people," as if life on the street was a hole he fell into and couldn't get out of. It was a friend, he says, who introduced him to a crack pipe, and to stealing stuff from the guy's parents to finance their smoke. Soon he was ditching school and hanging out on a corner, trying to panhandle a few bucks for dope every day. Then a bunch of stuff turned up missing at his friend's house, and his buddy blamed it all on him, and guess who ended up spending a week in a juvie facility and facing years of probation for burglary?
"I was in for a week," he recalls. "I got out, and my mom picked me up. I saw the hurt in her eyes. She asked me to stop using crack, and I was tired of hurting my mom and my family. Tired of sitting in the streets begging for money."
For a few months, Havens managed to clean up and find legitimate work. A mechanic who saw him begging on the corner helped him get a car and a detailing job. He worked at a Waffle House. When his dad came out of prison in 2004, Darrell worked for him, too, cleaning apartments. But the other people he was getting to know now, like his new girlfriend, Shannon Vicenec, a teenager who had her own struggles with drugs, seemed to have other, quicker ways to make cash.
His father didn't approve of Darrell's fast-lane friends, but felt he had little authority in the matter. "I had been away for so long, it was hard for me to keep Darrell down," says Gerald Havens. "He was never a violent kid. But his downfall was that he liked money."
His new friends liked money. And meth. Havens was soon smoking a little crystal every day. "I was pretty hesitant at first," he says. "I did smoke weed, but I wasn't into the hard drugs. I seen what it did to me before. And my parents went away on methamphetamines. But you'd go to somebody's house, and it was always around."
He had the same choices every high-school dropout faces: work or steal, stay clean or get wasted. But there were a lot of new friends and Vicenec on one side of the equation, and not much on the other that he could see. If there was a defining moment, it was probably a traffic stop five years ago. He had no license, no insurance. The cops took his ride away.
"They just took it from me," he says. "That's kind of what led me into stealing cars."
He decided he could just take things, too.
Havens has always denied that he was ever some kind of kingpin in a major auto-theft ring. Many of the suspects the police have linked to him are people he claims to have never known or to have barely met, like the informant who set him up. He stole cars to get around and to get meth, not as a business, he insists.
"A lot of people were putting me in things I wasn't involved in," he says. "I wasn't stealing a lot of cars. And I did try finding jobs. It was hard."
But what Havens might consider a few cars, someone else might consider a lot. In the nine months leading up to his shooting, he seems to have been on a spree of sorts, one that suggests desperate, drug-addled carelessness and a constant need for cash. He didn't always get caught right away, but he left an extensive trail that led the cops right to him.
All they had to do was compare police blotters.
March 19, 2006: An Englewood detective takes reports on two car break-ins on South Fox Street. Later that same day, one of the victims recognizes his stolen speakers in the back seat of a Ford Tempo parked less than two blocks away. The police locate the Tempo's purported owner, Darrell Havens, who gives a bullshit story about buying the stuff from a guy he met at a 7-Eleven. Havens is charged with theft by receiving.
April 22: A woman reports tools, skis and other items stolen from her garage in south Denver. Cigarette butts found at the scene are tested for DNA. The swag turns up a day later in a truck with no valid title abandoned in a driveway in Bow Mar. The truck also contains the driver's license of one Darrell Havens. Havens is arrested and charged with burglary. A DNA swab of his saliva matches the butts found at the scene.
June 25: A man who left his 2005 Subaru Outback running in a Lakewood parking lot while he loads another vehicle watches in astonishment as a skinny white male hops in the Subaru and puts it in gear. The man pursues, jumping in the passenger-side window, but the driver executes a Hollywood-perfect spin-turn, burning rubber and throwing the owner clear of the car. A white Ford Expedition, possibly driven by a blond female, follows the thief as he vanishes down the block.
June 29: The Subaru victim hands detectives a surveillance video he obtained from a Conoco station, showing the male and female gassing up the Expedition and the Subaru and paying with the vic's stolen credit card. The suspects are soon identified as Darrell Havens and Shannon Vicenec.
June 30: Two Lakewood detectives locate the stolen Subaru in the parking lot of the Glendale apartment complex where Vicenec lives. While they wait for backup, Havens appears, slips into the Subaru and starts to take off. The detectives rush the car, one with gun drawn, but Havens ignores them, flooring it, "causing all tires to 'burn rubber,'" one of the officers report. He blazes out of the parking lot and disappears.
July 5: Havens is under investigation in Arapahoe County for identity theft, forgery and motor vehicle break-ins.
August 4: Denver detectives conducting surveillance and trying to arrange a meth buy at a house on West Cedar Avenue run checks on a number of vehicles coming and going from the place. One is a Honda motorcycle, stolen seven days ago; another is a GMC Sierra, stolen five days ago; another is a Honda Accord, stolen just hours earlier. Havens and Vicenec are observed leaving the house on the stolen motorcycle.
An informant who tried to buy drugs from Vicenec's roommate inside the house tells the surveillance team that Haven has two guns on him. Police follow the motorcycle at a discreet distance. (Later, the episode will be characterized as a "police chase," but it's not clear if Havens was aware of the surveillance.) A few miles down the road, the motorcycle runs a red light on South Wadsworth and smashes into a turning car.
Havens says he has no recollection of the accident, beyond what Vicenec has told him: that blood was coming from his mouth as she tried to get him to respond, that his eyes were open but unseeing. "She was telling me to wake up, get up, and people were telling her to leave me alone, that the ambulance was on its way," he says.
Vicenec slipped away and managed to make it back to the house on West Cedar. She got into the stolen Accord with two males, Joshua Welles and Geoffrey Fansler, just as police moved in to seize the vehicles. According to police reports, Fansler slipped the car into reverse and shot backwards into a parked truck, swerved past police officers emerging from their vehicles, ran over a pile of rocks that blew out a front tire, and crashed into a concrete wall. It was Vicenec's second smash-up in two hours.
She fared better than Havens, who had a broken arm, a shattered femur and a blood clot on his spine that affected movement on his right side. He also had a brain injury. He spent weeks in the hospital in an induced coma, and when he came out of it he had trouble walking, talking and recognizing his own family. "I asked my mom how old I was," he recalls. "I thought I was seventeen. She said I was nineteen."
When he was released, he moved in with his sister Chrystal. Surgeries had left him temporarily unable to use either of his arms, and Chrystal found him much changed from the little brother she once knew. "He had a hard time remembering things," she says. "He would get really frustrated really fast. He wouldn't understand things, and you'd have to rephrase it so he could get it. Most of his life he had to depend on himself, and now I had to shower him and feed him."
Gradually, though, Havens was able to take care of himself again. After a few weeks he got back with Vicenec, unaware that she'd admitted to police her role in the Subaru theft and was offering to cooperate in other theft investigations involving Havens. Charges and court dates were piling up, but he went back to heisting cars, too, using his good arm to steer.
In mid-November, Cherry Hills issued an arrest warrant for him after recovering a stolen Yukon that had been abandoned with a flat tire. A print on the rearview mirror belonged to Havens.
A week later, a man in southeast Denver surprised a skinny male in the act of rifling his Honda Civic. The suspect jumped into a Nissan Maxima and tried to get away; the Honda owner struggled with him, and the Nissan crashed into a parked van. The thief was easily wrestled to the ground -- one arm didn't seem to work -- but he managed to flee on foot anyway.
The Nissan came up stolen. A backpack inside contained drug paraphernalia and court papers in the name of Darrell Havens.
More cases followed, in Jefferson County, Arapahoe County, Denver. One police report claims that on December 26, interrupted in the middle of another car break-in, Havens fled a Sheridan parking lot in a different vehicle, narrowly missing hitting a witness, who dove out of the way.
Meanwhile, police in Lone Tree, investigating a series of vehicle thefts in a gated community, had also begun to focus attention on Havens. Shortly before the SuperTarget shooting, a detective named Todd Pachello met with Shannon Vicenec. "She said she was going to start wearing a wire, getting things on tape for us, tell us where our stolen vehicles were," Pachello would later inform CIRT investigators. (Vicenec, who has convictions for auto theft and related charges and is now in community corrections, didn't respond to requests for comment.)
One of Pachello's meetings with Vicenec took place at a McDonald's in Denver. Pachello noted that the man who dropped her off there, Darrell Havens, was driving a black Audi with no plates on it.
A few days later, Pachello spoke with Arvada detective Bill Johnson, who was trying to ID a couple of auto-theft suspects for whom he had only first names: Darrell and Shannon.
Pachello told him those were his suspects, too.
Seven years ago, Colorado had one of the worst auto-theft rates in the nation. It's now comfortably in the middle of the pack, with a 48 percent decline in the number of cars stolen annually from 2005 to 2008.
The turnabout is a result of a push for more coordinated prevention measures and collaborative enforcement efforts such as the Denver Metro Auto Theft Team. Typically, when law-enforcement budgets are tight, property-crimes investigations suffer the most. On the premise that auto theft is too intimately connected to other serious crimes to be ignored, in 2003 the Colorado Legislature established the Colorado Automobile Theft Prevention Authority, a board of law-enforcement and insurance-industry types charged with doling out grant money to combat the problem.
"People assume that stealing cars is a juvenile, joy-riding type of thing," says Jerry Cole, a former Lakewood police officer who now works as an executive for LoJack and as vice-chairman of CATPA. "But it's more like a burglary. When you steal a car, you get to steal what's in it and on it. You get to use it in another crime or trade it for something else you want, like drugs. Meth, identity theft -- that's a significant part of what auto theft is about these days."
With start-up donations provided by two insurance companies, CATPA was able to help finance education campaigns urging people not to leave their cars running unattended and enforcement work by DMATT, a sporadic overtime team bringing together experts from different agencies. Since 2008 the Authority's budget has increased dramatically, thanks to a change in the law that now funnels one dollar of every auto-insurance premium paid in the state to CATPA. The influx of money has helped create full-time task forces such as the Metropolitan Area Theft Task Force, which received a CATPA grant for $2.2 million last year and now includes officers from Lakewood, Arvada, Wheat Ridge, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and Denver.
Both DMATT and MATT devote considerable attention to complex investigations that tend to span several counties. Some thieves focus on particular models that are easy to steal and lucrative to chop up for parts; others may be part of a network that leads out of state or out of the country. "Just about every case that we've got involves drugs, identify theft, other property crimes -- it's just amazing," says MATT commander Mike Becker of Lakewood.
Colorado State Patrol captain Dave Santos, the current head of DMATT, says such cases are "easily 90 percent" of his team's focus, too. But with advances in technology, from more sophisticated databases to GPS tracking to electronic monitoring of "bait" cars, these days DMATT rarely gets involved in sting operations like the one that targeted Darrell Havens. A risky pin-and-tase operation just isn't required in most circumstances.
"We have enough undercover cars to follow them and wait for them to come to a stop," Santos says. "We'll try to approach them on foot. There are times and situations, unfortunately, where that isn't practical. But for the most part, we have a non-pursuit policy. We have technology to pick them up and stop them when it is safe."
Becker says his task force has done several undercover stings, but not usually with pin cars. "Sometimes that works well, but it's got its challenges," he says. "We will not chase. We're trying to work smarter, not harder, with this group. We use other technologies to apprehend them. We'll track them until they set down somewhere. We can pick them up later that day or next week."
All of which makes the Havens sting -- a hastily organized effort to box in a mobile suspect behind a busy store, in icy and poorly lit conditions, after having been warned that the suspect was possibly armed and would ram other vehicles to escape -- all the more baffling.
It was a simple plan. Drop off Shannon at work, deliver the Audi to this dude Brewster behind a Target store, and get the hell out of there.
But Havens had a bad feeling about it from the start.
Adam Brewster, the man police arrested in a stolen Honda a few hours before the Havens sting, had a history of arrests for alleged theft, forgery and meth sales. He told Arvada investigators that he'd bought fifteen to twenty cars from Havens. But Havens insists that Brewster was Vicenec's friend, not his.
"I met him one time before the shooting," Havens says. "I guess Shannon had been dealing with him for a long time, but she never mentioned him before that."
The one prior meeting, he adds, took place only days before the shooting, when Brewster bought the Honda -- and saw Havens driving the Audi. Havens claims that he didn't get involved in negotiations on either vehicle. Police say that Brewster arranged to buy the Audi for $200 and some meth, but no discussion of price appears in any of the brief conversations police recorded between Havens and Brewster setting up the meet behind the Target.
Havens didn't want Vicenec there. He was worried Brewster might pull something, he says, maybe try to rob them, so he decided to go alone. The guy kept calling, pushing for a meet. At close to half-past five in the evening, Havens pulled off I-70 and headed into the SuperTarget lot.
Brewster had said he'd be in a blue Blazer behind the store. Havens spotted the Blazer -- which, behind tinted windows, actually contained two police officers -- backed into a spot in a tight corner of the lot. He made a wide turn and was in the process of pulling up next to the vehicle when the two designated pin cars, a Silverado and a white K2500 pickup, moved in. Other DMATT vehicles sealed off the perimeter.
According to multiple officer accounts given to shoot team investigators that evening, Havens reacted before the pin cars could reach their intended position. He put the Audi in reverse and backed into the Silverado, then shot forward, ramming the Blazer on the passenger side. The lot was icy, but the all-wheel-drive Audi had surprising traction, actually pushing around the larger vehicles attempting to box it in.
"He was going back and forth, hitting their car, my car," Arvada SWAT officer C.J. Bickmore, who was sitting in the passenger seat of the Blazer, told investigators. "I bet he hit our car three to four times good."
Colorado State Parks investigator Brian Sandy, who was driving the white pickup, responded by T-boning the Audi, driving it back into a snowbank. Thinking the suspect had been pinned, Sandy and his passenger, case detective Bill Johnson, hopped out of the truck and headed toward the Audi, planning to smash the windows and use a taser on the driver.
Sandy managed to smash the passenger window with a crescent wrench. But the Audi began to spin out of the snowbank, even as other vehicles arrived to try to complete the pin. It fishtailed around nearly ninety degrees, until it was now parallel to the Blazer, facing outward, its right front wheel hung up against the side of the white pickup.
Johnson, who had set out for the driver's window with taser in hand, was now in front of the lurching car, trying to keep his footing amid the ice and slush. Backpedaling and sliding, yelling at the driver to put the car in park, he found his exit cut off by another undercover vehicle, which had pulled up behind the pickup.
"I'm about ready to hit the ground, and this son of a bitch is about ready to run my ass over," Johnson told the shoot team later that night. "I got no place to go."
The Audi was rocking against the side of the pickup, its engine racing, back wheels spinning in an arc. If the right front wheel broke free of the pickup, Johnson was directly in the car's path.
"The first thing I thought is, 'I got a front row seat...I'm gonna watch Bill Johnson get killed,'" Bickmore recalled. "The car is now, I would say, no more than five feet from him, and all four wheels are squealing."
Johnson shifted his taser from one hand to another and drew his Glock. He fired into the Audi nine times, emptying the magazine. He went to reload and dropped the fresh clip on the ground. The car was still rocking back and forth, engine racing, tires spinning, but it seemed "pretty obvious" to one of the officers "that it's not being driven really at this point. It's like the accelerator is stuck, but it's still trying to move."
Other officers surrounded the Audi, smashed the windows and turned off the ignition. Havens was lying slumped in the driver's seat, bleeding heavily and screaming that he couldn't move. His right foot was jammed on the gas pedal, his arms limp at his sides.
Havens denies ramming any of the cars. He claims that the Silverado hit him from behind, forcing his car into the Blazer, and that after he was struck by the pickup he lost control of the car entirely.
"I never had a chance to run," he says now. "As soon as I pulled into that parking lot, they hit me. I only had one arm, and after they hit me I couldn't move my right arm at all. I couldn't put the car in park. The steering wheel was going all crazy.
"I flew forward, and then it felt like somebody punched me in the chest. I fell against the car door. I was trying to look out the window, and I had this throbbing pain in my neck. Then they smashed the window and glass shattered all over, and they screamed, 'Freeze, motherfucker! Shut the car off!' I told them I couldn't move. I asked them to please move my neck."
His version is contradicted by the accounts of half a dozen police eyewitnesses. At least two of those witnesses, including Johnson, say they made eye contact with Havens as he was ramming cars, spinning around, looking for an escape route and ignoring their orders. But other accounts leave some doubt about the exact sequence of events -- whether Havens was still in control of the car after getting rammed by the pickup, for example, or whether it was the bullets that finally stopped him.
Such nuances mattered little to the CIRT team or to District Attorney Storey, who found that Johnson used "lawful and appropriate force" for the situation. Other officers who participated in the sting had their guns drawn and told investigators they would have taken action if Johnson hadn't.
"Yes, I would have shot him," Colorado State Patrol officer Kelly Pickering said, "in self-defense of me and other police officers."
"I had never seen determination like this," Bickmore said. "He just wouldn't stop."
A search of the Audi turned up property stolen in a Jefferson County burglary and a vial of meth -- but no gun. While paramedics tended to Havens, an Arvada sergeant drove Bill Johnson back to headquarters and secured the detective's Glock. The twenty-year veteran cop was visibly shaken.
"I don't know why I'm crying," Johnson told the sergeant. "He tried to hit me."
Twenty-one months later, Havens appeared in a Jefferson County courtroom and received a twenty-year sentence. His court-appointed attorney signed the usual paperwork stating that his client was competent and not "presently operating under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medication." But his father says that Darrell was clearly doped up on painkillers at the hearing and could barely function.
"The judge had to keep repeating his name to get him to answer questions," says Gerald Havens. "His eyes were rolling back in his head, and he kept nodding off. I tried to tell him to take this to trial. Twenty years for someone like him is a life sentence. He was so medicated that I don't think he understood a damn thing."
Havens remains on an extensive regimen of drugs at Fort Lyon -- although, because of Department of Corrections restrictions on pain medication, not all the medications that family members say he needs. Since he's been at Fort Lyon, he's battled several serious infections, suffered heatstroke from being left in a hot shower and filed grievances over the deteriorating condition of his wheelchair. Prison life makes few allowances for quadriplegics, even in the special medical-needs unit.
Warden Wasko says Havens meets the demanding criteria for a medical parole, from the exceptional degree of his health needs to the type of crime he committed. (Sex offenders aren't eligible.) The process involves extensive review through various layers of the prison administration before an application ever reaches the state parole board. Only a handful of prisoners have actually received such a parole in the past decade -- even though, in cases like this one, such a parole could save the state millions of dollars in medical costs.
Havens sailed through the internal review process and scrutiny by the entire parole board, too, which is primarily concerned with whether the offender poses a risk to the public. In January the board approved his transfer from Fort Lyon to a house in Denver, where he would begin serving five years of parole, effective February 8.
"Nobody is saying he's any kind of angel, but I don't have a sense that he's a risk, based on his condition," says former board chairman Michaud, who signed off on the plan. "The only thing he can do is wiggle his left hand."
Havens's family lined up nursing care, a special bed and other equipment he would need in his new home. But less than 48 hours before his scheduled release, Havens learned he wouldn't be headed to Denver after all. The board had "suspended" his parole, he was informed, "due to additional information."
At first, nobody could tell him what the additional information might be. Then he was told it had to do with the fact that a joint had been found in a pocket of his wheelchair when he was recovering in a nursing home, prior to his sentencing -- in other words, he'd continued to "commit new crimes" after being shot. But Havens says the board already knew about the marijuana infraction when it approved his parole.
The real explanation, he suggests, has to do with his lawsuit against the police officer who shot him. "I had a hearing scheduled in Denver for my civil suit on February 8, the same day I was supposed to be released," he says. "So I filed a continuance, saying I was being paroled that day and didn't know if I would be in Denver in time. I filed that continuance on February 4. The Arvada city attorney's office would have received it at the same time. The next day they pulled my parole."
Documents obtained through an open-records request support Havens's version. After Arvada officials learned of Havens's impending release, parole chairman Michaud, a former Denver police chief, apparently received a phone call from Arvada police chief Don Wick. Wick then followed up with an e-mail providing "a summary of Havens's background that provides additional explanation beyond what is shown in just his criminal history."
The summary notes that Havens continued to pursue his "criminal career" even after being partially paralyzed in the motorcycle accident; that the Subaru theft victim had been "thrown from a moving vehicle" and a witness in the Sheridan case had been nearly struck by him; and that after being caught not once but twice with marijuana after being shot, he failed to pay his fine.
Havens disputes several of Wick's claims. The Arvada chief didn't respond to a request for an interview, and his department declined to allow Johnson or other officers involved in the DMATT sting to comment on the Havens case, citing the ongoing litigation. Under parole board rules, victims of a crime have an undisputed right to object to early release of an offender. But in this case, the victim of Havens's attempted assault happens to be the police officer who shot him, the one he's suing for allegedly violating his rights.
Jefferson County DA Storey also weighed in with his own letter of protest to Michaud: "We understand Mr. Havens' physical condition, but serving less than one-and-a-half years of a 20-year sentence flies in the face of the original sentence. The judge who sentenced him knew of his physical condition and yet imposed the 20 years, and we think that sentence was justified and should be served."
The logic of Storey's argument eludes Havens. "It shouldn't matter how many years I got sentenced," he says, "because one, I am already serving a life sentence in a wheelchair. And two, DOC doesn't want to take care of me."
Gerald Havens has his own years of experience with the prison system, but law enforcement's determination to block his son's parole is beyond anything he's seen before. "This boy can't commit a crime," he insists. "He can't do nothing. He did do wrong against society. If they want to put him on parole for twenty years, I have no problem with that. But we have to get him to rehab.
"The doctors said there is a possibility that he could walk again, but it would take years and years of rehab. He doesn't get any rehab in there. They take care of you the least they can."
Michaud suggests that Wick and others "might well soften their view" about Havens if he reapplies for parole in another six months or a year. According to Warden Wasko, the paperwork is already being prepared for another try. "If he meets the requirements, we'll process it exactly the same way we did last time," she says.
Darrell Havens figures he has one move left, one bargaining chip. "Tell them I will drop my lawsuit against them if they can get me my parole back," he says. "The little bit of life I can have, I would like to have it. There's really no benefit to me being in prison, no program I can take."
He doesn't share his father's optimism about being able to walk some day. The curve in his spine is so bad now, he says, he will always need the chair. But maybe with the right therapy, he might not feel so boxed in, trapped.
"I admit the things I was doing was wrong," he says. "I'm sorry for what I was doing. Every day I pay the price sitting in this chair."
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.