The Denver District Attorney’s Office has ruled that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Deportation officer who fired his weapon at a previously deported felon who brandished a box cutter was justified in his use of force.
That’s according to a letter released by DA Beth McCann on Thursday afternoon following an investigation into the June 9 incident, which stemmed from a traffic stop in the area of Huron Street and Louisiana Avenue.
The suspect, 39-year-old Hector Santana-Arreola, had two felony warrants for his arrest as well as a criminal history in Colorado. A bullet fired by ICE Officer Rueben Coray grazed his forehead, DPD said.
Santana-Arreola was first flagged by ICE in March, when agents learned that he was living with his brother in Aurora, according to the DA’s decision letter.
The morning of June 9, investigators say Corey and two other officers followed Santana-Arreola down Peoria Street to Interstate 70 and then to I-25. They say it was safe to pull him over once he exited onto Santa Fe Drive.
During an interview, Santana-Arreola told investigators that he was headed to work, the decision letter says.
According to the decision letter, Santana-Arreola ignored the officers when they tried to pull him over, and then turned onto Huron. He got out of his truck at the intersection with Louisiana and gestured at the ICE officers.
The letter says he ran away when they identified themselves, and ignored commands to stop.
When Coray and the other officers came within reaching distance of Santana-Arreola, the DA’s Office says Coray heard the click of a knife.
“Fearing for the safety of himself and of his fellow officers, Officer Coray yelled “knife!”, drew his handgun and fired once,” the DA’s Office said.
Santana-Arreola then dropped to the ground, a few feet away from the box cutter that he had in his hand. He had been running so fast from his car that he lost his shoes, the DA’s Office said.
A few hours after the incident, Santana-Arreola, who needed an interpreter because he spoke little English, told investigators that he took the knife out because he thought one of the officers asked him to.
He also said he heard the officers discussing how they thought he was going to attack him, and one thought he was going to throw the knife.
“Santana-Arreola claimed he understood this conversation even though it occurred in English,” the decision letter goes on to say. “He was unable to understand the same words when they were repeated to him in English during the interview.”
McCann said physical evidence supports the officers’ statement and disputes Santana-Arreola’s account.
Coray told investigators that he thought Santana-Arreola was getting into “kind of like in a ready position like he was going to attack” and that shortly after he yelled “knife!” at the other two officers, he fired his gun at around hit level.
In the decision letter, McCann said that because Santana-Arreola was so close to the officers and had ignored their orders, Coray was justified in firing his weapon.
“Although the knife was a utility knife, a great deal of damage can be done by a person wielding the blade of a utility knife, including possible deadly damage,” McCann wrote.
Santana-Arreola has been charged with two counts of menacing in connection with the shooting. He is slated to appear in court next on Oct. 30.