Police killing of Raymond Garcia justified despite 17 shots fired, 7 hits, DA says

Last month, we reported about the police killing of a "customer" during a prostitution sting in Greeley.

Now, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck has released a letter about the incident in which he details why he feels the shooting of the man, 31-year-old Raymond Garcia, was justified. The document, on view below, reveals that Garcia was drawing a weapon and on drugs when cops shot seventeen bullets in his direction, striking him seven times.

On May 21, the letter notes, members of the Greeley Police Department conducted a sting operation in room 107 at the Comfort Inn, 2467 29th Street in Greeley.

The concept called for the posting of online ads supposedly from prostitutes seeking customers, complete with a phone number connecting to undercover detectives. Once initial contact was made, potential customers were texted info about the time and place to rendezvous.

Room 107 was wired with audio and video devices intended to record the interactions between suspects and a female GPD officer posing as a prostitute. Meanwhile, other law enforcers waited in an adjoining room, number 109. Once the customer provided money for sex, the report says the faux-prostitute would say she needed to "freshen up" and step into the bathroom, at which point four other cops, all wearing uniforms, would enter the room and make an arrest.

The letter notes that an officer assigned to take the suspect into custody would enter the room "with no weapon in [his] hands." He'd be followed by a cop with a Taser at the ready should the suspect resist. The next cop wouldn't be holding either a gun or a Taser -- but the last, tasked with providing cover, would have a firearm out and ready to go should the situation go south.

This approach worked four times that day without a problem, the letter maintains. But then, Garcia showed up.

According to the decision letter, Garcia had at least three warrants in his name at the time -- information discovered after the incident went down. One of the warrants was for failing to appear in a protection-order-violation case. Another involved a failure to appear for a motions hearing prompted by charges of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, attempt to influence a public servant and possession of a weapon by a previous offender. And the third, out of Boulder County, accused Garcia of failing to appear at a status conference related to an alleged violation of the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act.

At about 5:30 p.m. on the 21st, surveillance cameras watched as Garcia was dropped off at the Comfort Inn. He headed to room 107, carrying what's described as "a black laptop carrying case."

Once he entered the room, Garcia is said to have been concerned the woman before him was a cop. But over the course of fifteen minutes, she apparently convinced him otherwise. He's quoted as mentioning the "use of controlled substances" he'd brought along with him and allegedly offered to sell some of them to the woman after they'd finished having sex.

Finally, at about 5:46 p.m., the decision letter says Garcia produced a $100 bill -- the price upon which he and the undercover officer had agreed. She reacted by excusing herself and heading to the bathroom, at which point her fellow officers entered the room.

Continue for more about the Raymond Garcia shooting, including additional photos and the complete decision letter. Officer 3 was in the lead position, announcing, "Police. Let me see your hands."

Instead, the letter says, Garcia reached for a semi-automatic, .45 caliber Hi-Point handgun, model JHP. It would be the last thing he did.

The second cop in the room, designated Officer 4, entered with his Taser out and fired a jolt at Garcia after seeing the suspect with a gun in his hand. He then ducked and dived onto the bed.

Meanwhile, Officer 1, the third cop into the room, drew his gun, while Officer 2, the last cop in, quickly squeezed off a round in Garcia's direction.

The blast was quickly followed by others. Only Officer 4 -- the one with the Taser -- didn't send a bullet at Garcia. In all, seventeen shell casings were found, and an autopsy revealed that seven rounds had entered the suspect's body, grouped in his head and torso.

The post-mortem also showed that Garcia had plenty of illicit substances in his bloodstream at the time of his death: 270 ng/ML of amphetamines and 1700 ng/ML of methamphetamine. In addition, he carried 3.7 grams of meth in his pants pocket and his black case contained .8 grams of cocaine. .5 grams of meth and two glass pipes, plus lots of bullets -- most in a box, some loose.

As for his handgun, it was loaded with eight rounds of ammo, but no bullet was in the chamber.

In the legal analysis section of the decision letter, Buck notes the Colorado statute permitting a peace officer to use deadly force upon another person "only when he reasonably believes it is defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force."

Buck believes that standard was met in this case. He writes:
Greeley Police Offices were attempting to take Raymond Garcia into custody for Solicitation of Prostitution based on the actions and statements made by Garcia to the undercover female officer in Room 107. Each of the four officers was dressed in standard issue Greeley Police Officer uniforms and Officer #3 clearly identified himself as a police officer when he entered the room. Garcia immediately pulled a handgun from his waistband and began pointing it in the direction of officers as they entered the room. Officers #1, #2 and #2 reasonably believed at the time they fired their weapons, based on all of the surrounding facts and circumstances known to them, that they or other officers were in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.
One person left unconvinced is Sylvia Clapham, Garcia's mother. The Greeley Tribune quotes her as saying, "To shoot my son the way they did was totally uncalled for. He was shot before.... One shot or two shots would have taken him down."

Look below to see a larger version of a Raymond Garcia mug shot, followed by the decision letter.

Raymond Garcia Shooting Decision Letter

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our News archive circa May 22: "'Customer' killed by Greeley police during latest raid in undercover prostitution investigation."

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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