The Denver Police Department wasn't part of the first ten officer-involved shootings to take place in Colorado circa 2019, or even the eleventh.
But DPD officers were at the center of the twelfth, a standoff at Sixth and Inca that ended when suspect Joseph Quintana took his own life. And the department is one of two agencies investigating the thirteenth such event in Colorado during this still young year, which took place within Mile High City limits but found a Jefferson County deputy assigned to a federal task force pulling the trigger.
The Jeffco law enforcer shot two people — 35-year-old Sandra Pacheco, who survived, and 45-year-old Robert Lee Martinez, who didn't — inside a vehicle that also contained what the DPD describes, in its first account of the February 1 incident, as "two toddler-aged children."
The kids are said to have escaped physical harm amid the gun play. But their proximity to deadly fire that could have turned even more tragic underscores the reasons that so many police reformers advocate for regulations that forbid cops from shooting into moving vehicles — a controversial tactic that can lead to the preventable deaths of individuals suspected of crimes that hardly qualify for capital punishment, as well as innocent bystanders.
In June 2015, the Denver Police Department changed the policy allowing its officers to shoot under such circumstances following the death of seventeen-year-old suspected car thief Jessica Hernandez at the hands of an officer several months earlier.
More recently, on January 16, efforts to stop Chayley Tolin from driving away from Englewood police officers resulted in bullets flying around a Swedish Medical Center parking garage. One of the projectiles is believed to have shattered a window in a car my wife had parked only moments before.
As for the latest incident, it took place on the afternoon of the 1st, five days after the Sixth and Inca matter, on the 200 block of South Canosa Court.
According to the DPD, a federal task force associated with the U.S. Marshals Service was attempting to contact Martinez on an arrest warrant for a probation violation.
Martinez had a lengthy criminal record that included meth- and gun-possession charges. The photo below is from a previous arrest in Denver, as is the Pacheco photo at the top of this post. A new mug shot of Sandra Pacheco has not yet been taken, as she was still hospitalized for her injuries at last report.
Task-force officers are said to have seen Martinez leave a Canosa Court residence and get into a vehicle driven by Pacheco that pulled up out front.
That's when officers moved in, prompting Pacheco to collide with "several unmarked police vehicles while also driving in the direction of an officer who was standing nearby," the department's account continues.
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The car Pacheco was driving stopped after the Jeffco deputy — the officer who'd been standing near the vehicle — shot her "in the extremities," the release states. And the deputy gave the same treatment to Martinez after he "refused to comply with orders to surrender to officers and was reaching around inside the vehicle."
Investigators have confirmed that two young children were fellow ride occupants at the time of the shooting, but it's unclear if the deputy knew that beforehand or only discovered it afterward. Their relationship to the suspects is unknown, too, but neither Martinez nor Pacheco were a parent or guardian to them. The children were subsequently released to a parent.
Both Martinez and Pacheco were in critical condition when they were transported to an area hospital. She is expected to recover from her wounds, but he was pronounced dead a short time later.
The Denver Police Department is the lead investigatory agency in the shooting, with the Aurora Police Department and the Denver District Attorney's Office also playing roles. Pacheco's arrest warrant is currently sealed.