Breaking News
More () »

Failure to adequately investigate woman's domestic violence report lands Denver cop a 3-day suspension

The victim was murdered three months later. The suspect in the earlier case is charged in her death.

DENVER — A Denver Police Department detective has been suspended for three days for failing to adequately follow up on a woman’s domestic violence report last May that came about three months before the man in that case allegedly killed her, 9Wants to Know has learned.

It is the third time Detective Ana Munoz has been disciplined for on-the-job actions since joining the department in 2014.

The latest issue surrounded her handling of a domestic violence report filed by Elizabeth “Liz” Hatlas on May 11, 2022. In that case, Hatlas told police that three months earlier, her estranged boyfriend had "dragged her by the neck, threw her in the bathtub, turned on the shower, and left the house."

The case was assigned to Munoz, who had recently been promoted to the domestic violence unit. By her own admission, Munoz made one phone call, on May 15, 2022, attempting to speak with Hatlas. Munoz told her superiors she could not leave a message because the voicemail mailbox was full.

Hatlas, 50, was found dead on Aug. 5 in the backyard of a home in the 3600 block of High Street with an orange extension cord wrapped around her neck, according to documents obtained by 9Wants to Know.

Denver Police arrested the owner of the home, Travis Tuomi, 44, the day after Hatlas’ body was discovered, and he faces charges of first-degree murder and tampering with a body.

Tuomi remains behind bars without bail. His next court hearing is scheduled for May 22.

Tuomi was also the person Hatlas accused of assaulting her in the earlier report.

The murder case sparked an internal investigation into Munoz’s handling of the domestic violence report Hatlas made nearly three months before her death. In it, she alleged that Tuomi had tried to strangle her in February 2022, 9Wants to Know has learned.

In September, 9Wants to Know reported that the department had opened an investigation of Munoz under policies for the “Duties and Responsibilities of a Detective.”

Munoz could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

According to court documents obtained by 9Wants to Know, police were called to the High Street home twice last May for incidents involving Hatlas and Tuomi.

The first time, on May 5, Tuomi called 911, reporting a verbal disturbance with Hatlas – but after officers arrived, “both agreed to stay in separate rooms and not bother each other,” according to court records.

Then, on May 11, Hatlas called 911 to report a verbal disturbance.

When officers arrived, Tuomi was gone. As they questioned Hatlas, she reported the incident three months earlier.

At the time Munoz was assigned the case, the domestic violence unit was down one detective, and she and two others were assigned to the unit after three others retired unexpectedly. The unit had about 1,000 active cases spread among its 11 detectives, according to disciplinary documents made public Wednesday.

According tot he documents, Munoz told internal investigators that "the case was a low-priority case because of the victim's delay in reporting the Feb. 12, 2022, act of domestic violence." There was no physical evidence of the alleged assault, and "with the information she had at the time, Detective Munoz did not have sufficient probable cause to apply for an arrest warrant," according to the discipline documents.

Munoz acknowledged during the investigation that her lone attempt to reach Hatlas was not sufficient.

A sergeant in the unit said they operate with an "unwritten rule" that detectives make three attempts to contact each victim.

The internal investigation found that Munoz violated a department rule requiring detectives to "be responsible for the proper investigation of cases assigned to them." The investigation found her conduct has "a pronounced negative impact on the operations (and) professional image of the department (and) on relationships with other officers ... and the public." 

The workload of the domestic violence unit was a mitigating circumstance that was considered. It was not persuasive because even though "Detective Munoz's misconduct had a questionable casual connection" to Hatlas' death, "the fact remains that EH lost her life at the hands of the suspect from the February incident."

Munoz has been disciplined before.

According to city records obtained by 9Wants to Know, Munoz was suspended for 18 days after an incident in October 2019 in which her patrol car was stolen.

In that case, according to records, she left a department-issued rifle in the front seat of her car, rather than locked in the trunk or in a rack. The man who stole her car later pointed that rifle at other Denver Police officers, who shot and killed him.   

She was disciplined again for an incident last June in which her body-worn camera, worth $699, was among a bag of belongings stolen out of her police vehicle while it was parked outside her home. Munoz acknowledged that she left the car unlocked, and an internal investigation found she violated a department rule against rough or careless handling of city property.

As a result, command officers "fined" her two days – meaning they were removed from her bank of earned days off – and issued a letter of reprimand.

Contact 9Wants to Know investigator Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: kevin.vaughan@9news.com or 303-871-1862.

More 9NEWS stories by Kevin Vaughan:

SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Investigations & Crime  

Before You Leave, Check This Out