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Colo. Chief Orders Review of Fatal Police Shooting

AURORA, Colo. --

Aurora police Chief Daniel Oates has ordered a review of police procedures after a plainclothes police officer shot and killed an extortion suspect.

The review was ordered after a public outcry over the shooting.

Authorities said 49-year-old Juan Contreras was shot three times in the confrontation on Saturday night. Authorities say Contreras was sitting in a vehicle and the officer was standing just outside.

Police said Contreras had a knife.

Oates said the shooting triggered a number of questions within the department and the community and police need to learn from it.

Aurora police say the officer was trying to arrest Contreras for demanding $100 to return a set of car keys a woman had lost earlier.

The incident began when an elderly woman said she lost her car keys in a King Soopers parking lot and a got a note demanding $50 to get them back.

At some point, the supervisors of the patrol unit decided to set up an extortion sting.

To pose as the elderly woman's representative, a patrol officer removed his uniform shirt -- which had his badge pinned on it -- and wore a T-shirt and uniform pants as he approached Contreras' Jeep in the Family Dollar store parking lot at 12100 East Colfax Ave.

Police said Contreras played hardball with the undercover officer.

"As the conversation continued, the suspect said that the rate just went up to $100, and he was going to require $100 for that same set of keys," Friel said.

Friel said that is when the officer knew he had probable cause to make an arrest and stepped toward the Jeep and grabbed the suspect's arm. He said a struggle began, with the man repeatedly punching the officer in the face.

Friel said a witness told police the officer repeatedly called out, "Aurora police officer, police officer,'' to identify himself.

The officer saw the man reach into a center console and pull out a folded knife that was about 9 inches long, Friel said. The officer said the man was trying to open the knife with one hand.

"The officer …felt like this individual was attempting to open the blade of this knife, and (the officer) obviously felt that there was a serious threat to his life and his safety," Friel said.

"At a certain point, the officer made the decision to release the suspect," Friel said. "He took a step back from the door and fired three shots into the suspect, which killed him."

On Monday, an upset family member told 7NEWS Contreras was wary of the plainclothes officer "because he didn't know he was an undercover cop. Anybody can go up to anybody and say, 'Oh, I'm an undercover cop.'"

"This was an unusual operation for us," Friel said. "Certainly, it's rare that an officer would take off his uniform to conduct an operation."

The officer, who's been in the department four years, has been placed on administrative leave during the investigation.

Committee Will Review Tactics, Supervisors' Decisions In Operation

"The Aurora Police Department will conduct a comprehensive administrative review of the tactics and supervisory decision-making in the operation," Aurora Police announced Friday.

"Oates made clear that the decision to order a (Tactical Review Board) inquiry is not a comment on the officer’s decision to use deadly force at the critical moment of confrontation with Mr. Contreras, who was in possession of a knife and struggled with the officer. That confrontation, said Chief Oates, is a matter that will be reviewed first by the Arapahoe County District Attorney, Carol Chambers, and then via a comprehensive internal affairs investigation that will determine whether any of the officers involved violated department policy," an Aurora police news release said.

The TRB is a process Oates put in place in 2006. It brings together a panel of senior commanders and rank-and-file officers to conduct a comprehensive internal review of all aspects of an operation, to include applicable internal policies, tactics, training, use of equipment and decision making by supervisory personnel. As needed, a TRB will consult experts outside the police department as to best practices in policing that might be applicable.

Oates has ordered TRB reviews of two previous incidents: the December 2003 fatal shooting of Jamaal Bonner at the Top Star Motel, and the 2008 investigation into the triple vehicular homicide by Francis Hernandez.

In each case, the TRB made substantive recommendations that led to improvements in APD policy and training.

The TRB will not complete its work or release a report until after the district attorney makes public her findings on the shooting and the department’s internal affairs investigation is completed.

 

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