BRIGHTON, Colo. — A former Brighton Police Department officer will not face charges for his role in an October chase that resulted in the death of two people, but the 17th Judicial District Attorney's Office criticized his decision to engage.
The district attorney's decision letter says the officer, Charles Hundley, responded around 11:30 a.m. Oct. 26 to the area of Gaviota Avenue and Goldfinch Street for a report of a suspicious vehicle.
The officer discovered the Kia SUV being driven by the suspect, identified by police as Nicholas Vallarini, was reported stolen out of Westminster, according to the letter.
The officer then activated his overhead lights and got out of his patrol car to make contact with the suspect, the letter says.
After another officer arrived on scene in an unmarked vehicle, the suspect hit the second officer's vehicle and drove off, according to the letter.
The first officer pursued in his patrol car with his emergency lights and siren active while the suspect went an estimated 50 to 60 mph through the neighborhood, which had a 25 mph speed limit, the letter says.
The suspect continued north of Mt. Bierstadt Street and disregarded a stop sign at East Bridge Street, entering cross-traffic and hitting a Nissan pickup truck in the front passenger side, according to the letter. A passenger in the Nissan, 21-year-old Dulce Castro Perez of Hudson, was ejected and taken to the hospital, where she died from her injuries, police said.
The suspect continued across North Bridge Street to the edge of the road, entered a grassy area and hit a pedestrian on the sidewalk, who also died due to their injuries, the letter says. That victim was identified as 25-year-old Gustavo Mosqueda Ortega of Montrose.
The officer said he pursued the suspect because he "demonstrated an escalation of violent behavior by intentionally striking another police vehicle," according to the letter. It says that Hundley was following at what he considered to be a "safe distance" of an estimated quarter-mile behind the suspect.
The letter says he continued the pursuit because the suspect "committed crimes beyond simple traffic offenses and presented a 'grave danger' to the public by his erratic driving." The officer also said he believed he had to intervene to stop the suspect before he injured someone, according to the letter.
Just before the crash, the officer said he heard someone on the radio advise to discontinue the pursuit, and by the time he processed the command, the crash had happened, according to the letter.
District Attorney Brian Mason said in the decision letter that he found the officer's decision to engage in the high-speed chase deeply troubling.
"While Officer Hundley's pursuit was not the proximate cause of the ensuing fatal crash, the significant safety risk in the decision to pursue should have outweighed the legitimate interest in tracking down the suspect for his alleged crimes," Mason wrote.
Mason went on to call the decision "unnecessarily dangerous and a disproportionate response to the alleged criminal activity and potential risk posed by the suspect."
However, Mason said there is "no reasonable likelihood of success of proving the elements of any crime beyond a reasonable doubt" against the officer.
Brighton Police Department said the officer is no longer employed with the department. Following the pursuit, he was placed on administrative leave with pay. He then returned to limited desk duty until his employment ended on January 25.
Villarini was arrested at the scene and faces the following charges, according to the district attorney's office:
- Two counts of first-degree murder
- First-degree assault
- Three counts of vehicular eluding
- Driving under restraint
Villarini's next scheduled court appearance is for an arraignment in Adams County on June 16.
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