Law Enforcement

Denver Cops' Bloody Start to 2020: Two Suspects Killed in Six Days

A gun found near the body of Trevante Johnson, who was shot and killed by a Denver police officer on July 31, 2018.
A gun found near the body of Trevante Johnson, who was shot and killed by a Denver police officer on July 31, 2018. Denver District Attorney's Office
Last night, Denver police officers shot and killed an alleged car thief near Iliff and Interstate 225. It's the second fatal shooting involving Denver Police Department personnel in the first six days of 2020.

The two incidents represent 20 percent of the DPD's officer-involved shooting total for all of 2019 and nearly 30 percent of last year's fatalities. And the second shooting took place on the same day that Denver District Attorney Beth McCann released a decision letter in a 2019 matter that found a DPD officer had been justified in squeezing off double-digit shots at a suspect who eventually took his own life.

In 2019, there were 68 officer-involved shootings in Colorado — a total much higher than any year since at least 2010 and possibly an all-time record. The Denver Police Department contributed the biggest percentage of this sum by way of ten officer-involved shootings, seven of which involved suspect deaths.

Among the latter group was the demise of 25-year-old Trevante Johnson on July 31. At 11:56 p.m. that night, according to DA McCann's decision letter, DPD officers were dispatched to the area of 1045 25th Street on a report of a prowler who'd allegedly tried to open the door of a residence. Officer Andrew Niccum soon encountered Johnson, who responded by hiding behind a parked car before trying to flee.

As Johnson ran, the report maintains, he fired twice at Niccum, who shot back. The officer believed one of his bullets hit the target, since Johnson started limping as he continued trying to escape. But rather than surrendering, Johnson is said to have shot again at Niccum, prompting another fusillade; spent cartridges collected after the fact numbered eleven to three in the officer's favor. Shortly thereafter, Niccum saw Johnson make what's described as a "throwing gesture" that suggested he'd ditched his weapon. But instead, the suspect put the gun to his head and killed himself.

McCann summed up her exoneration like so: "Under these dangerous circumstances, Officer Niccum was forced to make a split-second judgment, and his decision to shoot Mr. Johnson in self-defense was justified under Colorado law. It was tragic that Mr. Johnson then shot himself, which resulted in his death."

Cut to January 1, when the DPD tweeted: "Officers are investigating an officer-involved shooting in the 900 block of S. Irving Street." At about 12:50 a.m. near that location, police reportedly encountered twenty-year-old Gerardo Conchas Busto, who was accused of threatening a roommate with a butcher knife. When Conchas Busto allegedly lunged at them with the blade, two cops on the scene started shooting. The Denver coroner's office gave the cause of death as "multiple gunshot wounds."

Here's a video of the January 2 press conference in which the department outlined what went down from its perspective.

A similar press availability took place last night, but this time, not one, but two agencies took part in dispensing the information.

As seen in the video below, the first speaker was Aurora Police Department public-information officer Crystal McCoy. She noted that around 6:05 p.m. on January 6, the APD received a "request for cover" from the Denver Police Department. Once officers arrived, she said, "events occurred with the Denver Police Department traffic stop that led to an officer-involved shooting involving at least one Denver Police Department officer."

The suspect, characterized only as an adult male, was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced deceased at approximately 6:33 p.m.

Next up was Denver Police Division Chief Ron Thomas. He noted that officers from DPD District Four encountered a stolen vehicle near the intersection of Cedar and Federal in southwest Denver. They then followed the car to the vicinity of Iliff and I-225, where the driver exited the vehicle and allegedly threatened them with a weapon. The cops reacted by producing firearms of their own, and using them.

Continue to see the clip.

Questions from reporters followed, with Thomas offering a few more details. He stressed that the pursuit of the stolen car wasn't a chase, noting that the officers tailed him "safely" without using lights or sirens.

When asked about the specifics of the traffic stop, Thomas said investigators didn't yet know why the suspect chose to exit the highway where he did and was unsure how many shots were fired. Likewise, he neither confirmed nor denied a witness account about the man putting a gun to his head before being felled.

The suspect will be identified after next-of-kin notification. A multi-agency investigation is ongoing, as is the case in the death of Gerardo Conchas Busto.

Click to read the Trevante Johnson officer-involved shooting decision letter.
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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