On March 19, 2018, police officers pursued, shot, and killed a man they mistook for an escaped inmate. Now, two of them receive 90-day unpaid suspensions.
The incident began when police officers staked out an escaped convict’s girlfriend’s home. Mauricio Venzor-Gonzalez, the escaped inmate, slipped from custody while in transit to a medical appointment.
During their surveillance, they took notice in a black SUV circling the area. When the vehicle followed behind Venzor-Gonzalez’s girlfriend’s car, they followed behind. When they attempted to stop the SUV, it accelerated. The police gave chase.
The SUV carrying two men, 27-year-old Steven Lee Nguyen and 24-year-old Rafael Landeros Jr., led them to a location near Park Hill Golf Club, where it ran off the road. During the pursuit, the passenger tossed an object from the vehicle.
Police officers believed it to be a gun, but was later discovered to be methamphetamine.
Despite that presumption, when the SUV ran off the road, one officer, Austin Barela, perceived imminent threat. He told investigators he saw the passenger door open for a moment. Then, without taking cover, Barela opened fire.
He continued firing until his clip emptied. He then reloaded and emptied a second clip.
Meanwhile, his partner, William Bohm, opened fire after witnessing Barela firing. He says he believed they were under fire.
Then, a third officer responding to the scene, Susan Mercado, exited her vehicle and fired two shots as the SUV rolled into a ditch. She states she believed the suspect returned fire.
Barela states he fired until he saw the driver stop moving.
After the flurry of gunfire, police officers realized they chased down the wrong individual. Steven Lee Nguyen slumped dead behind the wheel. Three of the 48 shots fired pierced his body and killed him. Another grazed the abdomen of passenger Landeros.
Within the vehicle, police found a loaded revolver, unused, resting in the door.
Nearly a year later, Barela and Mercado serve 90-day unpaid suspensions in connection to the incident. The department found their suspicion of the SUV warranted, but their hasty use of lethal force violated department policy. Hence suspensions instead of termination.