Two Denver police officers violated department policy when they shot at a suspect across a road, missed the suspect and hit two bystanders’ vehicles, according to disciplinary letters.
Officers John Repjar and Crystal Thomas will each serve four-day suspensions over the 2020 incident in Denver’s Montclair neighborhood, according to the letters, which were issued Sept. 11 and released to Pointypress on Friday.
The Dec. 28, 2020, incident began just before 11:30 a.m. in the 900 block of North Monaco Parkway, when two men and a woman posed as construction workers — donning hard hats and safety vests — in order to get inside a home and rob the occupants.
One of the men, Larry Hamm, 47, shot and killed the homeowner, Mark Outman, 64, and shot his daughter in the head during the attack. She was seriously wounded but survived.
Repjar and Thomas were the first two officers to respond to the scene after both the daughter and a neighbor called 911 to report the home invasion. Hamm and the other two suspects split up as the officers approached.
Hamm ran west on Monaco Parkway, carrying a gun. The two officers got out of their patrol car and chased him, yelling for him to stop and drop the gun. Hamm ran into the road at 10th Avenue and Monaco Parkway and tried to carjack a passing SUV. Hamm slammed his hands on the SUV’s hood and pointed a gun at the driver. He then moved to the driver’s side of the vehicle, and the driver drove off, according to the letter.
Repjar told police he heard Hamm hit the SUV and believed the noise was a gunshot. As the SUV moved away, Repjar fired at Hamm three times. Thomas shot once.
Both officers missed Hamm. Instead, two of Repjar’s bullets struck a passing Hummer. Thomas’ shot hit a passing pickup truck.
Neither officer should have fired because drivers were passing on the road and there were houses behind the suspect, Chief Compliance Officer Mary Dulacki wrote in the disciplinary letters. Additionally, Thomas fired from a position behind Repjar, who was standing downrange and nearly in her line of fire.
Dulacki found the officers should face discipline for failing to properly consider the backdrop when they fired. The officers also took the shots from too far away, according to the letter. Repjar was about 90 feet from the suspect, while Thomas was about 125 feet away. The maximum distance officers are trained to shoot at is 75 feet, according to the letter.
Both officers said they thought they had a clear line of fire when they shot, and that they did not see the passing vehicles.
“Officers are responsible for assessing their backdrops before deciding whether to shoot,” the letter reads. “…Because of the nearby vehicles moving in both directions, (the officers) should have waited for those vehicles to pass and then reassessed whether to shoot.”
After both officers missed Hamm, he ran away and attempted another carjacking. He was then shot and killed by another officer. Denver District Attorney Beth McCann found the shooting was allowed by Colorado law and declined to press criminal charges. The other two suspects were arrested and convicted of second-degree murder.
John Davis, attorney for the two officers, said Friday the officers will appeal the discipline decision.
“Our challenge to the discipline wasn’t based on the four days, it was based upon the principle of the situation, whether or not any discipline was appropriate under the circumstances,” he said.
He argued during the disciplinary process that the officers made the best out of a chaotic and violent situation, according to the letter.
“Mr. Davis argued that the officers needed to pay attention to the suspect, that they were under stress, and they saw what was important — a homicide suspect with a gun who had attempted an armed carjacking, pointing a gun in (their) direction,” the letter reads.
Davis also questioned why the officers were facing discipline for the policy violation when other officers were not discipline in similar past incidents, according to the letter.
The discipline comes as one Denver police officer, Brandon Ramos, is facing criminal charges for allegedly shooting six bystanders while aiming at a suspect in Lower Downtown last year, and as the department faces criticism in the August shooting of Brandon Cole, 36. Body camera footage in that case shows a woman and young child were standing directly behind Cole when an officer shot and killed him. They were not hurt.
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