Why SWAT Cop John Ruddy Wouldn't Have Had Body Cam in Phillip Munoz Shooting

Last week, we told you about the fatal police shooting of Phillip Munoz in an incident that wounded SWAT officer John Ruddy.

Since then, plenty of disturbing information has surfaced about Munoz. His estranged wife's detailed his abusive past, which apparently was repeated in a subsequent relationship. At the time of his death, Munoz was wanted for shooting his girlfriend.

But the Munoz's killing raises another question related to the Denver Police Department's use of body cameras.

The DPD is in the process of transitioning toward the use of such devices for many of its personnel, but not for SWAT officers — meaning that Ruddy wouldn't have been able to record what happened to him even if full implementation of the camera program had taken place.

On December 2, as we reported, Denver officers were assisting colleagues in Thornton, where an assault warrant had originated.

They attempted to stop a suspect later identified as Munoz near the intersection of West 26th Avenue and Newton Street.

But Munoz — clad in a Denver sheriff's department T-shirt — drove away.

He didn't get far. His attempt to maneuver between a couple of homes near West 25th Avenue and Meade Street was short-circuited by the presence of a gas meter, which exploded when it was struck by Munoz's ride.

At that point, Munoz is said to have abandoned the car and started to run.

Shots followed from both sides.

We don't yet know who fired first.

However, Ruddy was struck by at least one bullet. He was originally said to be in critical condition when he was transported to an area hospital, but a later DPD tweet noted that he'd stabilized and was responding well to treatment.

Not so Munoz. He was soon pronounced dead, ending many years of interactions with the law.

Munoz's criminal record began in 1999, when he was eighteen; that's when he pleaded guilty for assault, 7News reports.

Over the years that followed, Munoz had so many busts, for crimes that included kidnapping, burglary and vehicle theft, that he was eventually labeled a habitual criminal.

His estranged wife, Kimberly Munoz, says he was also violent in his private life.

"Phillip was a terror," she tells the station in a package on view below.

According to Kimberly, who married him in 2002, Munoz was known as "Sleeves" — a reference to tattoos on his arms seen in this Facebook photo:

"He was very abusive when I was pregnant with our children," she notes. "Locking me in the house, beating me up, kidnapping me, pulling me by my hair when I was six months pregnant out of a truck."

Kimberly adds that she left Munoz nine years ago but remained terrified of him until she learned of his death at police hands.

As for that assault warrant, it was related to the shooting of Munoz's latest girlfriend.

7News reveals that the woman was shot in the chest and likely survived only because a neighbor came to her aid and stopped the bleeding by pressing a towel to her wound until medical personnel arrived.

Denver Police Department spokesman Sonny Jackson confirms that there was no body camera footage of the shooting during which Munoz was killed.

Jackson says the body camera program is being gradually implemented. Personnel in District 6, where a pilot program was staged, are expected to have the cameras by year's end. They're getting them first because their prior experience with the devices means the learning curve won't be quite as steep, Jackson points out.

The cameras will then be rolled out to most DPD officers in other districts over the months that follow. When he spoke with Westword, Jackson wasn't aware of a date by which all this process will be complete.

But while the DPD decided to require sergeants to wear body cameras — something the department initially resisted — there's still no dictate for SWAT officers like Ruddy to don them.

A report earlier this year from the Office of the Independent Monitor (see it below) suggests that this is a mistake. The document points out that of the ten Denver officers involved in shootings during 2014, two of them, or 20 percent, were assigned to SWAT.

One example: the July 2014 fatal shooting of Joseph Valverde during a drug sting operation.

The Denver District Attorney's Office deemed the shooting justified. The decision letter in the case is also shared here.

However, Valverde's mother feels the killing of her son could have been avoided.

"Police never stop to think of what it does to the families, especially the moms," she wrote to Westword. "As a mother of a murdered child, I can't tell you in words what it's done to my life and how much I have cried. I will never be the same. These officers that chose to be trigger-happy have a family to go home to at night. They don't sit crying like we do. I've cried every single day since he was murdered.

"I have a message for these officers who are supposed to be trained in these situations: They could have Tased them or used rubber bullets. Who are they to be the judge if our sons lived or died? Both of them should have been able to be judged in the court of law. My message is: You might have gotten away with it on this earth, but you shall be judged by God. Exodus 20:13, thou shall not kill. God sees all."

We'd know much more about the specifics of that incident had the SWAT officer involved had a body camera — just as would have been the case with the death of Phillip Munoz.

But for now, assigning body cameras to Denver SWAT officers isn't in the works.

Look below to see booking photos for Phillip Munoz, followed by the 7News interview with Kimberly Munoz, the Office of the Independent Monitor report and the Valverde decision letter

Office of the Independent Monitor 2014 Annual Report Final

Joseph Valverde Decision Letter.pdf

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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