GREELEY, Colorado -- Weld District Attorney Michael Rourke cleared the Greeley police officer who shot at Russell Dean Cooley, 40, and his passenger as Cooley eluded police in November and shot at them more than 50 times.
“I want the people to understand what our police officers have to deal with and how difficult their jobs can be at times,” Greeley Police Chief Mark Jones said in a video releasing body camera footage of the incident. “The officer is recovering and doing well and should be back to work full time in the near future.”
About 9:30 p.m. Nov. 14, police responded to a report of shots fired from a white pickup truck at another vehicle at 13th Street and 26th Avenue in Greeley. The victim’s rear bumper was struck by a bullet. He followed the pickup until he lost sight of it at 8th Street and U.S. 85.
The driver of the pickup — later identified as Cooley — was located about 10:45 p.m. at the Cenex gas station at 55 Oak Ave. in Eaton. A Weld County Sheriff’s deputy activated his lights, and the driver of the truck sped off. Deputies with the Weld County Sheriff’s Office joined Greeley officers in pursuing the vehicle for a short time.
Police terminated the pursuit at 10:53 p.m. near North Colorado Medical Center, 1801 16th St. Evans police began airing sightings of the vehicle without pursuing it.
A Greeley police officer spotted the vehicle at 11:40 p.m. going east on 37th Street from 47th Avenue and began to pursue it. He chased the vehicle off-road through a field, the parking lot of a bank and then through an electrical substation.
The chase continued into a residential neighborhood in Evans between 17th and 23rd avenues and 34th and 37th streets. Cooley leaned out his window and began firing his gun at police near 34th and Marigold streets in Evans. The Greeley officer pursuing him fired back, and his vehicle was hit by gunfire multiple times. The officer has not been identified.
Cooley stopped in the middle of the road in front of 3610 Marigold St., and both Cooley and his passenger — later identified as Maria Lerma — exited the vehicle.
Police were under heavy fire from what was believed to be a rifle, and the Greeley officer took up a position at the rear of his patrol car. He was shot in the right arm. After the rifle fire stopped, police heard Lerma calling for help.
Lerma, who sustained a gunshot wound in the lower leg, and the officer were taken to the hospital. The officer underwent surgery in early December to have the bullet removed from his right arm. The officer is on modified duty as a result of the injury, but he’s expected to make a full recovery.
Lerma, who had been Cooley’s boyfriend for three months, later told police that they hung out in Greeley on Nov. 14, before going for a drive about 5 p.m. Lerma said Cooley asked if she wanted to learn how to shoot a gun, and she said yes. After she fired one round into a field, they left and continued driving around, she told police.
Lerma described Cooley as “tripping out” on the drive and said he thought people were following him. A blood analysis indicated he had 1700 nanograms of methamphetamine per milliliter of blood at the time of his death. Blood levels of 200-600 nanograms have been reported in meth users who exhibited violent and irrational behavior. Lerma described her and Cooley stopping for gas at a Kum and Go in Pierce, but prosecutors believe she was describing their stop at the Cenex in Eaton.
Police believed Cooley went inside the residence after the rifle fire ceased, and they dispatched the SWAT team. About 1:45 a.m. Nov. 15, police heard Cooley yelling out from inside the home, saying his family was in the house and that he was going to shoot himself. Moments later, police heard a single shot inside the residence, and Cooley’s stepfather called 911 to report Cooley had shot himself.
The 19th Judicial District Critical Incident Response Team was activated, and an investigation ensued.
Investigators determined Cooley shot at police at least 55 times. Inside a bedroom, police found the rifle Cooley used dismantled covered with a towel in a laundry basket. Cooley’s stepfather told police he talked Cooley into giving him the rifle, took it apart and hid it, so Cooley would not be able to find it. The rifle had a drum magazine capable of holding 60 rounds.
An ex-girlfriend of Cooley’s later told investigators he called her in the early morning hours of Nov. 15 and said he was going to take as many cops with him as he could. The woman said she convinced him not to hurt anyone else.
Cooley was associated with the Sureno southside gang in the late 1990s and early 2000s, according to investigators. He was not a tracked gang member at the time of his death. Investigators say active, longtime Sureno and 18th Street gang members began posting on social media expressing condolences and paying respect to Cooley for shooting at police.
The injured officer was the only one to fire his weapon, shooting eight rounds — six from inside his car during the pursuit and two after he exited his vehicle at the end of the pursuit. One of those rounds struck Lerma in the leg.
Investigators determined Lerma was between the officers and Cooley when he exited the truck and headed into the residence. She has been released from the hospital after a surgery, but her current prognosis is not known due to her lack of continued cooperation with the investigation, according to investigators.
Because the officer reasonably believed he and others were in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injuries, according to prosecutors, the District Attorney’s Office found his attempted use of lethal force justified.
©2020 the Greeley Tribune (Greeley, Colo.)
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