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ACLU official questions DA's decision not to file criminal charges against law officer who shot teen

Alexis Mendez-Perez, 16, was among a group accused of breaking into a vacant house. A department of corrections officer shot him in the back as he fled.

DENVER — An official with the local American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) office was surprised that an off-duty law officer will face no charges after shooting a teen-aged burglary suspect in the back in the yard of his northeast Denver home.

The decision by Denver District Attorney Beth McCann came after she concluded that the officer, Desmond Manning, had a strong self-defense case.

Denise Maes, the public policy director at ACLU Colorado, told 9Wants to Know she sees it differently.

“Surprised – primarily because I think there should have been some criminal charges here,” Maes said Wednesday. “I thought the facts certainly suggested charges, and I think district attorney McCann promised the community that she’d do a little bit better on these sorts of cases.”

Manning declined to comment when reached by telephone earlier this week.

He is due in Denver district court at 9 a.m. Thursday for a hearing where prosecutors are expected to tell the judge they will not file any charges in the case.

RELATED: Denver DA decides not to charge Department of Corrections officer who shot 16-year-old in the back

According to court documents obtained by 9Wants to Know, Alexis Mendez-Perez, 16, was fleeing from a home he and others were suspected of breaking into when he hopped a fence and ran through the yard of an adjoining home owned by Manning, 46.

Manning was arrested at the scene on suspicion of second-degree murder but later was released without having to post bail.

An autopsy found Mendez-Perez was shot in the back and there was not soot or gunpowder stippling near the wound, suggesting he was at least several feet away from the weapon when he was wounded.

In a statement, McCann said, “We have great sympathy for the family of Alexis Mendez-Perez and understand that the events of April 23, 2020 have permanently altered their lives. I, along with other members of our office, met with the family and their attorney yesterday to inform them of our decision not to file criminal charges against Mr. Manning. That news was understandably difficult for them to hear having lost a loved one.

RELATED: DOC employee arrested in northeast Denver shooting that left juvenile dead

“We have met several times with the homicide detectives, spent an enormous amount of time examining the facts of the case, and concluded that we do not have enough evidence for a jury to find Mr. Manning guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt. Not only does the law require us to prove the elements of murder, it also requires us to disprove that Mr. Manning was defending his own life and the lives of his family when he shot Mendez-Perez.”

In Colorado, self-defense is narrowly defined in the law: “Deadly physical force may be used only if a person reasonably believes a lesser degree of force is inadequate” and it requires that that one of several factors be met. For instance, Manning would have had to have “reasonable grounds to believe, and does believe, that he or another person is in imminent danger of being killed or of receiving great bodily injury …”

The law also allows a defendant to claim self-defense if, for instance, the person is committing or is about to commit a kidnapping, robbery, sexual assault, or assault, or if the person is committing or attempting to commit burglary and uses physical force against the occupant of a dwelling or business.

The ACLU’s Maes questioned the self-defense argument, given what’s known now.

“I have a really hard time when you shoot someone in the back that there could really be a self-defense element here,” she said. “When you’re shooting at someone that’s actually fleeing away, or running away from you, as opposed to toward you, that would seem to suggest no imminent risk at all, and so what is there to defend against?”

Credit: Courtesy Ana Mendez
Alexis Mendez-Perez.

She also said she believed Manning could have been charged with a less-serious crime, such as manslaughter.

“I think the community is really tired of these sort of things,” Maes said. “This is a 16-year-old, young Latino male – you know, I think what we’ve been hearing on the streets is we’re sort of tired of black and brown people dying at the hands of law enforcement.

“And this is yet another incident of that, and I wish our district attorney had done the community better.”

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

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