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Police Shootings Sparks Questions, Public Outcry in Denver


July 13, 2004
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Police Shootings Sparks Questions, Public Outcry in Denver

Investigation Underway After Shooting During Search for Domestic Abuse, Kidnapping Suspect

Complied from press reports: (Jon Sarche, The Associated Press
Sean Kelly, George Merritt and Howard Pankratz, The Denver Post)

DENVER -- A police officer's fatal shooting and killing of a 63-year-old man in his bed -- the uncle of the suspect -- has brought a public outcry and demonstrations as activists questioned the pace of reforms after the third such slaying this year and the 11th since March 2003.

Frank Lobato, 63, was lying in bed, with the TV on with a can of soda in his hand Sunday night when an officer came into his second-floor bedroom during the search for the suspect. Mistaking the can for a weapon, the officer, Ranjan Ford, Jr., killed Lobato with a single shot to the chest, Police Chief Gerry Whitman said Monday.

Ford, a three-year officer was placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting. Police were called to the home by Cathy Sandoval, Lobato’s niece, whose husband, Vincent Martinez beat her and held her against her will for 17 hours on Sunday.

The shooting comes weeks after the city and police announced reforms to the department's use-of-force policy in the wake of controversy surrounding police shootings.

Whitman and District Attorney Bill Ritter took the unusual step of calling a news conference to lay out some of the facts about the incident, the third fatal police shooting this year.

"It has now been determined that the party who was shot was not armed at the time of the shooting," a subdued Whitman said, reading from a prepared statement. "The officer stated that after he fired the shot, he heard an object fall to the floor on the other side of the bed. A beverage can was recovered from the floor in the area of the bedroom."

Lobato had a lengthy criminal record dating back to 1959, including arrests for drugs, assault and burglary. He had been in prison several times. His most recent arrest came in May on shoplifting charges.

On Monday night, Lobato's niece and grandniece said Lobato needed daily medication to keep his mind clear enough "to where he could cope."

Lobato was probably confused by the officers if he was aware of them at all, his niece Denise Cogil said, adding that the family has contacted an attorney in preparation for a lawsuit.

A Model Officer

Ford, 33, came to the department in 2001. He has no prior shootings and no discipline problems, police said.

Before his hiring in Denver, Ford had been an officer in Jasper, Texas. Jasper Police Chief Stanley Christopher said Ford was a model officer there.

"I wish I had a dozen like him," Christopher said. "I'm telling you, he was a great officer. We really hated to see him go."

Ford was born in Boulder and attended Fairview High School, according to the application he submitted to become an officer in Denver. He speaks Singhalese, the native language of Sri Lanka. According to his application, he worked as a police officer and corrections officer in Texas beginning in 1993. Ford works in District 6 downtown.

"Knowing him as well as I do, if something happened, he was in fear for his life," Christopher said. "He's not a hot-dog. He's not a John Wayne-type."

Officials Urge Patience

The shooting came about two months after the city agreed to a $1.3 million settlement with the family of Paul Childs, a 15-year-old developmentally disabled boy shot by an officer last summer and three weeks after a 38-member task force issued reform recommendations.

Officials urged patience as reforms take hold.

"I'm not so arrogant as to suggest (the reforms) would have prevented this," said task force co-chairman Penfield Tate III.

Hickenlooper's spokeswoman Lindy Eichenbaum Lent said the mayor is confident in the police chief's commitment to improving safety for residents and police officers.

In December, the city announced more crisis-intervention training and deployment of more Tasers, electronic stun guns. Last month, the police department modified its use-of-force policy to urge use of non-lethal means to subdue violent suspects.

This summer, the mayor's office plans to ask the City Council to establish a civilian oversight panel to monitor investigations of police use of force, Eichenbaum Lent said.

"We're absolutely going in the right direction," said Rick Garcia, chairman of the City Council's public safety committee.

Mayor John Hickenlooper, who has championed police reform, issued a statement Monday commending Whitman for being forthcoming about the shooting and promising continued investment in resources and training for police officers.

Public Protests

"We're all in shock right now," Lobato's niece, Maxine Warren Martinez, said during a demonstration at the City and County building Tuesday."

Chanting "stop killer cops," she and about two dozen protesters marched inside to Mayor John Hickenlooper's office. He was in Washington, D.C., but the group met with his chief of staff, Michael Bennet, to demand the resignation of Police Chief Gerry Whitman and the firing of Ford.

Outside, Vaughan and other activists blasted what they said was a police department unwilling to acknowledge deficiencies in training and oversight.

After police finish investigating Lobato's death, District Attorney Bill Ritter will review the case to decide whether to charge Ford with a crime.

In Ritter's 10 years as the city's chief prosecutor, no charges have been filed against police officers involved in shootings. On average, there have been seven fatal and nonfatal police shootings each year, said Ritter's spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough.

In a statement Tuesday, Ritter said police appeared to have legally entered the 42-year-old's home because they had verified the existence of two arrest warrants issued for him and had his wife's implied consent to enter the home.

Ritter, standing next to Whitman, promised a full investigation to determine whether Officer Ranjan Ford Jr. broke any laws when he fired the fatal shot. No criminal charges have been filed against a Denver police officer for an on-the-job shooting during Ritter's 11-year tenure.

Domestic Violence Situation

Sandoval said she is saddened and worried by the outcome. A relative is dead, and her angry husband is in jail.

"I'm worried he will think this is my fault," she said before her husband's capture Monday night.

The situation began when Sandoval and her husband of two months returned from an evening of drinking around 2 a.m.

Martinez was jealous because Sandoval had talked to people at the bar, Sandoval said. Once home, he became violent and he hit, choked and threw plates at Sandoval until about 10 a.m., she said.

For the rest of Sunday, Martinez refused to let Sandoval leave. She did not get out until about 6:45 p.m., when her mother arrived to return Sandoval's two children.

Sandoval said Lobato was in the room during the day as Martinez held her captive.

Once out of the house, Sandoval called police and agreed to meet them at a nearby McDonald's. She said she gave police permission to enter her home, and told them that her husband and his uncle Lobato were in the apartment.

Salaz said she watched police officers use a ladder to enter the apartment. They were in the apartment about a minute before she heard a shot, she said.

"People were out running around, grabbing their kids" when the shot went off, Salaz said. "Then, you could hear the officers inside yelling 'Put your hands up!"'

Associated PressCopyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Salaz and other neighbors knew that Martinez had already jumped out a window and run away before three officers, including Ford, entered through the same window. Police had surrounded the building, but an officer walked around to the front, allowing Martinez an opportunity to flee, neighbors said. It was at least 25 minutes after Martinez ran away before the officers went in, Salaz said.



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