3 Denver Police Officers Cleared in Shooting Death Of Steven Nguyen, a Man Mistaken For Escaped Inmate
Denver’s district attorney has determined that the three officers were justified when they shot and killed Steven Nguyen, a man who had been mistaken for an escaped jail inmate. The attorney for Nguyen’s family, Spencer Bryan called the shooting “egregious” and is questioning whether the Denver police officers violated the department’s policies for firing at moving vehicles.
In March of 2018, Denver police were very busy as they were searching the city for an escapee, Mario Victor-Gonzalez, who was considered armed and dangerous due to the fact that he had shot an officer earlier in the year. Denver Police Department officers William Bohm, Susan Mercado, and Austin Barela shot and killed Steven Nguyen, 27, and injured Rafael Landeros Jr., 24 on that fateful day in March.
Nguyen led police on a chase from Aurora into Denver, sometimes driving an estimated 100 mph through city streets. He refused to pull over and ignored patrol officers’ commands to get out of his car after he wrecked in a ditch near East 40th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard. Police also reported that Landeros had thrown something they believed to be a gun out the car window during the chase. Nguyen, who wrongly had been identified by the department’s fugitive unit as the escapee, was shot nearly 50 times.
District Attorney Beth McCann determined that even though Nguyen was not the escapee, his and Landeros’ actions posed a threat to the general public and the police officers who were trying to apprehend them, according to a copy of a letter she wrote to Chief Paul Pazen informing him the officers had been cleared of criminal wrongdoing. Although McCann cleared the officers, she suggested that Pazen take a hard look at whether they violated the department’s policy that forbids officers to shoot at moving cars except under the most extreme circumstances. She particularly criticized Mercado’s decision to shoot.
“Officer Mercado’s shots likely did not hit either of the suspects, but her use of deadly force without taking close stock of the situation once she arrived at the scene should be examined carefully by the Denver Police Department…,” McCann wrote.
Nguyen’s efforts to flee along with the officers’ belief that he was a homicide suspect and his actions gave the officers reason to believe their lives were in danger, McCann wrote.
“The officers believed that at least one of the occupants of the suspect vehicle was very dangerous, had previously shot a Denver police officer, and had thrown what appeared to be a firearm from the window of the fleeing vehicle,” McCann’s letter said.
Nguyen family attorney, Spencer Bryan stated the shooting is a test of the police department’s policy on shooting at cars, and the department and city government’s ability to hold itself accountable, Bryan said.
“This level of excess is particularly egregious because it was fueled by a dispatch from detectives who could not positively identify the passenger in Steven’s car, but falsely reported ‘to a 100 percent certainty’ that he was an escapee wanted for shooting at police,” the statement said.
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