2 undercover Denver officers stop armed robbery
By Manny Gonzales, Kirk Mitchell and Kieran Nicholson
DENVER, Colo. — The two undercover police officers who got into a shootout with a shotgun-toting robber at a Vietnamese restaurant during lunch Wednesday also shot the three patrons injured in the melee, Denver Police Chief Gerry Whitman said Thursday evening.
Whitman lauded the officers' quick thinking and credited them for saving lives, saying they were in an "impossible situation" between deciding to fire at the gunman or have him take a hostage.
"It wasn't a situation where they could say, 'Stop! Police!' ... These people that were hit, it was serious but fortunately not fatal," Whitman said.
The chief said each officer fired six times. The injured patrons were seated behind the gunman.
The gunman, Phuong Van Dang, 26, was a halfway-house inmate who had served a portion of a prison sentence for assault with a deadly weapon, court documents revealed.
Dang was convicted of the felony charge in Jefferson County in 1998 and sentenced to 18 years, according to Colorado court records. But he was released from prison and placed in a community corrections program.
Wednesday, Dang, carrying a shotgun and wearing a bandanna over his face, entered the Vietnamese restaurant on South Federal Boulevard through a back door and got into a shootout with Denver police officers, according to court documents.
Dang was also carrying a duffel bag and was pointing the shotgun at restaurant patrons and two plainclothes officers in an attempt to rob them, according to an arrest warrant.
The officers, identified in the warrant as Sgt. John Pinder and Detective Jesse Avendano, exchanged gunfire with Dang. Police wouldn't confirm the identities of the officers Thursday night, but Whitman said they each fired their semiautomatic pistols six times in the direction of Dang, who was standing 12 to 15 feet from them with no one else in between.
Dang was struck five times. He remains in serious condition at Denver Health Medical Center, police said.
"This guy is a dangerous career criminal, and he had the potential here to do some pretty nasty things," Whitman said.
The patrons, described as a married couple in their 50s and their adult son, were directly behind Dang when the shooting started. The father and the son each suffered wounds to their legs - one suffered a graze wound; the other was struck in the ankle. They were treated and released Wednesday from Denver Health.
The mother was struck in the side and remained in the hospital Thursday night. Her condition was not released.
Whitman said he met with the father and son and said that "they're very supportive of the officers'
Dang fired once at the officers and then his shotgun jammed with four shots remaining, police said.
His single blast, however, shattered a window and a mirror directly behind the officers, striking within 2 feet of one of them and immediately affecting that officer's vision, Whitman said. That officer was treated for having shards of glass in his eye.
"That officer was shooting and was being shot at, almost simultaneously," Whitman said.
Copyright 2007 The Denver Post
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