Denver, CO – A La Salle police officer was indicted for murder on Friday for shooting a fleeing suspect in at a Family Dollar store in May.
The incident occurred on May 3 when La Salle police officers responded to a suspicious vehicle call in the parking lot of the Family Dollar store, The Denver Post reported.
La Salle Police Officer Erik Hernandez and another officer were investigating that complaint when they encountered 38-year-old Juston Reffel inside the store, according to the investigation report put before the grand jury.
Employees told the officers that a Dodge Magnum had been backed into a parking spot, double-parked, and had recently gotten an unprofessional paintjob, KUSA reported.
Charging documents said the suspect vehicle’s VIN was obscured and the out-of-state license plates came back as bogus.
The other officer blocked the Dodge into its parking space and then the officers went into the store to look for the owner, KUSA reported.
When Reffel spotted the officers, he fled the store on foot and tried to get out through the emergency door in the back of the store, which set off an alarm.
So, he ran toward the front exit of the store and left, then jumped into his vehicle, The Denver Post reported.
The officers didn’t see where the suspect went, so Officer Hernandez asked his partner to give him cover while they searched the store.
The indictment said that was when Officer Hernandez spotted Reffel trying to make a getaway in the Dodge Magnum, KUSA reported.
The officers chased after the suspect and when he tried to drive away, Officer Hernandez opened fire on Reffel, according to investigators.
He positioned himself next to the suspect vehicle and ordered Reffel out of the car, KUSA reported.
Reffel ignored the officer’s commands, put his car into gear, and tried to pull away.
That was when Officer Hernandez opened fire on the suspect’s vehicle, according to the indictment.
The Weld County District Attorney’s Office said in charging documents that Officer Hernandez fired four shots and the suspect was struck once in the upper torso, KDVR reported.
Reffel drove away anyway and crashed into another car nearby.
He was transported to North Colorado Medical Center where he was pronounced dead, KUSA reported.
Weld County prosecutors presented the results of their investigation of the officer-involved shooting to a Colorado grand jury which returned an indictment for second-degree murder on June 23, The Denver Post reported.
Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke’s office released a statement on June 26 formally announcing the charges.
“The Defendant [Hernandez] acted knowingly with respect to his conduct described above and was not justified in the actions he took pursuant to the affirmative defense of peace officers use of deadly physical force,” according to the indictment, KUSA reported.
The statement said that Officer Hernandez had been taken into custody and held on a $50,000 bond, The Denver Post reported.
The law enforcement officer has been scheduled for a bond hearing on Aug. 23.
Officer Hernandez had been on paid administrative leave while the officer-involved shooting was investigated, KUSA reported.
La Salle Police Chief Dave Arnold told reporters that he fired the officer as soon as the indictment against him was handed down.