In The Blue is a project of the Sentinel Colorado Investigative Reporting Lab. The Lab’s mission is to engage with readers, journalists, decision makers and citizens around impactful accountability reporting that serves all communities of Aurora. The series is an extended look at local police reform and related issues.
AURORA | In August 2018, a woman called the Aurora Police Department to report that one of its officers, a man she’d been romantically involved with years prior, had been stalking and harassing her after using police databases to research her contact information.
The woman, whom the Sentinel is not naming because she appears to be a victim of harassment, reported to the APD internal affairs office that Sgt. David Sandoval had been making repeated unwanted contact, both in text messages and in person, since 2016.
Upon receiving the woman’s report, then-Police Chief Nick Metz requested the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office investigate her claims to determine whether charges were appropriate. A 33-page report by the investigators concluded that Sandoval should be charged with crimes of harassment and domestic violence.
Yet, after reviewing the case chronicling more than 100 text messages and calls from Sandoval to the woman over the course of four months, the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute the officer, claiming there was not sufficient evidence.
The Sentinel’s attempts to reach the woman have been unsuccessful.
According to an APD internal affairs investigation completed in March 2019, Sandoval admitted to using a police database to find the woman’s home address, a violation of Colorado law. APD punished Sandoval with a 240-hour unpaid suspension.
Sandoval is still a sergeant with the agency and now leads one of the Direct Action Response Teams, according to department spokesperson Faith Goodrich.
DART is a recently re-activated unit touted by police officials as a high-profile response to increased crime in the region. The nearly 20-officer unit analyzes crime data, creating strategies to intervene or prevent robberies, homicides, thefts and other crimes.
Last year, police told the Sentinel that the new DART officers were selected from a pool of about 40 applicants based in part on their Internal Affairs record regarding the use of force — officers frequently accused of abuses were not considered for the post — making it clear Sandoval’s IA record was reviewed before he was selected.
Despite admitting to internal affairs investigators that he’d used a police database to find information about the woman, Sandoval wasn’t barred from investigating cases related to the same crimes investigators said he should be charged with.
“Any sworn employee here at APD may be tasked with responding to or investigating cases of stalking, harassment, or domestic violence,” Goodrich, an APD public information officer, said.
Sandoval declined an interview with the Sentinel.
In a statement, interim Chief Art Acevedo, who was named by the city to lead the agency in November, only said the department is “laser-focused on the future,” but didn’t address Sandoval’s internal affairs investigation or his current position on the DART unit.
“In the nearly three months I have served as Interim Chief, we have made significant progress on policy changes and enhanced training to meet best practices, limit adverse outcomes and strengthen trust with the community we are proud to serve,” he said. “The vast majority of the men and women of the Aurora Police Department are dedicated public servants and strongly support our ongoing efforts to deliver the highest level of safety and service to the people of Aurora.”
Arapahoe County investigators found that in the four months leading up to the woman’s complaint to Aurora police about Sandoval, he called and texted her nearly 100 times.
Nikki Bales, the Arapahoe Sheriff’s Department investigator assigned to the case, and other detectives used cell phone records and GPS data to corroborate the woman’s claims, including that Sandoval — whom the woman named “Cop D do not answer” in her phone contacts – illegally used a police database to find her.
“Don’t you know what I do for a living?” Sandoval replied when the woman asked him how he found her, according to Bales’ report.
Bales deferred a request to speak with the Sentinel about the case to the sheriff department’s public information officers.
It’s unclear how often the DA’s office declines to prosecute cases that are considered “domestic violence,” which acts as a sentencing enhancement when the parties involved were part of an intimate relationship. A spokesperson for the agency said the DA’s office doesn’t currently track that data.
The woman met Sandoval in 2012 and had “several intimate encounters” with him over the next year, according to Bales’ report. At the time, the woman told police, she considered him her best friend. But in 2015, the woman told Sandoval she no longer wanted contact with him. For several months, Sandoval did not contact her.
Then, in December 2015, the woman was visiting her father in the hospital when Sandoval appeared in the ICU room, uninvited and unannounced.
“She has no idea how David found out about her father, where he was, or that she was visiting him,” investigators wrote.
In early 2016, the woman moved residences. Although she never told Sandoval her new address, he showed up at her new home that fall.
“She was rude to him and told him to leave,” investigators wrote of the interaction. “David said he wanted to be friends again. Since the fall of 2016, David has called and texted numerous times. The communication will stop for months and then start again.”
According to investigators, most of the texts Sandoval sent the woman went unanswered.
On Aug. 15, 2018, she replied to Sandoval.
“Leave me the f*** alone David,” she wrote.
He then called her 22 times over the course of two and a half hours, according to the report.
When she arrived home that evening, Sandoval pulled into the driveway behind her in a patrol car. The woman told investigators she was surprised. She went inside and texted her daughter telling her not to come home because “the cop was there.”
GPS data from that night showed that Sandoval had been to the woman’s home and driven around the housing complex. He left a note on the woman’s car: “Please reach out to me,” it read. “I just want to talk. I will do anything. Please. – David.”
Days later the woman called the internal affairs office at APD to report harassment by Sandoval, according to investigators. Minutes later, Sandoval called her from his work desk phone. Thinking it was somebody associated with internal affairs, she answered, but hung up immediately when she realized it was Sandoval.
He responded with a text: “That was mean,” he wrote. “I will stop… I get the point. You have made it clear that you want nothing to do with me. Take care of yourself.”
Ten days later, however, he began texting her again. Between Aug. 15, 2018, when Sandoval was at the woman’s apartment, and Sept. 9, 2018, he sent her 35 text messages, according to sheriff’s office investigators.
Investigators wrote that “[The woman] said that David calls her nonstop and she feels like he treats her like one of his subjects that he does surveillance on and is afraid he checks her phone or somehow knows everything she is doing. She said she just wants him out of her life.”
When investigators asked the woman whether she had made changes to her life because of Sandoval, she said that she felt like she always had to watch her back. The investigators noted that she did not show up to a meeting where she was supposed to give them a thumb drive containing text messages from Sandoval because “she was too afraid to leave.”
The woman told investigators that Sandoval had never directly threatened her.
The investigation concludes with saying that “David even admits several times throughout the years that he knows she told him to leave her alone but he chooses to keep pushing it. The 22 phone calls David made to [the woman] came within a short period of time with the intent to annoy her enough to hopefully finally answer. When [the woman] finally does respond it is to tell him to leave her alone, to which he does not do for the next 31 days.”
A deputy district attorney, working under then District Attorney George Brauchler, who signed off on a so-called “No File” document claimed there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Sandoval, but didn’t point to why or what was specifically missing to substantiate the recommended charges.
The Sentinel asked representatives of the 18th Judicial District repeatedly why, despite a trove of digital evidence that appears to corroborate the woman’s story, they determined the evidence did not warrant charges.
“Our Office was unable to file charges in this 2018 case because the presented evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the named suspect committed a crime,” the agency said in a written statement. “When there is no reasonable likelihood of a conviction, we are ethically obligated to decline prosecution.”
One prosecutor working in the domestic violence unit said that, when evaluating cases, the DA’s office examines “evidence, including statements by victims, observations by police, physical injuries or lack thereof, medical reports if there are any and anything else included in the case and determine whether or not we believe we have a reasonable likelihood of meeting that burden.”
Criminal justice reform advocates say the Sandoval case highlights a reluctance of some prosecutors to hold police officers accountable for wrongdoing.
“More than anyone else in the criminal justice system, district attorneys have the most power to push policing reform and accountability forward because they are the gatekeepers,” ACLU Colorado Director of Advocacy Taylor Pendergrass said. “All too often DAs look the other way when they see police harassing, lying and engaging in illegal conduct. They could be an early warning system and they’re one of the few actors that have the power to deter.”
The Sentinel submitted records requests for prosecutors’ notes on the case but were told that such notes are “confidential” because they’re considered attorney work product.
In The Blue series is produced by Sentinel staff journalists Max Levy, Philip Poston, Carina Julig and Kara Mason with investigative journalists in residence Brian Howey and Trey Bundy.
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Pretty par for the course for the APD. Cop breaks the law? Let’s cover it up and promote them!
Welcome to APD Art. Just when you thought you had it under control or had a good handle on things; you are now finding out you’re in the S..T house. And by the way, you are going to learn that the house is big, deep, and wide; and stinks to
high heaven. Good luck digging it all up. More to come!!
Thank you for continuing to uncover and disclose not only the racism of APD, and general incompetence and brutal nature, but as I’ve seen myself, the misogyny and disrespect of women by some APD members, and now we find that it extends to the upper levels and oversight of APD.
The 18JD is very, very selective about who gets prosecuted. Show me a single case of government corruption that the 18JD prosecuted in the last 20 years.
In 2019, 44 victims (mostly seniors) filed a well documented criminal complaint with the 18JD asserting reckless endangerment, undue influence and racketeering involving the city’s Public Works Department. The investigator assigned wrote that he didn’t “see sufficient evidence” to proceed. He wrote that after electing to NOT examine a single medical record and after electing to NOT speak with more than one of the 44 complainants.
The 18JD fails at prosecuting government corruption. The failure extends beyond wrongdoers within APD.
Based on the information, Sandoval sounds like an annoying, heartbroken man who just can’t let go.
Has she not heard about blocking calls? It almost seems as though she might have strung him along.
Sounds great, except when he uses his police authority in almost a criminal way to satisfy his prurient interests to find her. Sure “I only want to talk”, “Let’s just go get a cup of coffee”. Give me a break!!!
Your first thought is always victim blaming. That’s awful.
Even if she hadn’t tried to stop him in exactly the way you think she should have, this wouldn’t be her fault. She clearly told him to stop, that’s all it should take. It is her right to say no.
She probably did block him – she literally MOVED her whole life to a different house and he *used illegal resources from APD* to find her new house and *blocked her driveway with a police car*. He called her from different phones, including APD work phones, so that she would be tricked into answering. She couldn’t just block that, could she?
This man should not be allowed access to databases with private information about anyone anymore. He shouldn’t be allowed tools for intimidation, like badges and guns and police cars. He has shown that he will use that information and those tools for illegal and personal things – the logical and normal consequences for that kind of behavior is to take away those tools, not give him more. Shame on APD for protecting this lawlessness, and even more shame on APD and Art Acevedo for promoting it.
Abolish the department for good. That is the ONLY solution. Every single cop is bad. Fire every single person in city management and the people who work directly for them. Recall the lunatic right wingers on the city council. That clown of a Chief is there to cover up the racist, misogynistic scum that we PAY to keep there while giving us the illusion that he’s not! The rest are just carrying the water for this bigoted, bloated, disgusting institution. Thank god for the real news reporters at the Sentinel who keep thrashing these people. Keep it up. Thrash them into submission like they thrash Black people in particular, killing them.
That seems guaranteed to succeed. No city staff, no city leaders, no law enforcement, but you got the Dave Perry blog. Solid plan.
Now, where have I seen this before? The Purge? Mad Max Thunder Road? Batman Returns? I don’t know, they all seem to blend.
Sure. What a very fair, balanced and articulate comment. And when you or your family have a life threatening situation, who you gonna call? You are showing your ignorance. Wake up and get real, instead of emoting your deep held biased beliefs.
Sounds like transparency is still elusive for the APD…
Hey everyone. I lived in Aurora for a long time but moved away a few yews ago. I really miss my neighbors. I remember reading on the Sentinel before I left that Vanessa Wilson was not a very good chief who did not fully support our communities of color. But I see here on the Sentinel now that she was actually pretty good? Can someone tell me what changed?
She was getting rid of cops and they didn’t like it. The right wingers on the city council forced her firing. She was a great leader who stood up for Black people and wanted her racist cops to stop arresting Black people for the nonexistent crimes they never committed. Now we are stuck with a blowhard Chief who got fired from his last job and is now covering up for the really bad cops. The Sentinel keeps exposing it!
Funny how your ilk clutches pearls over the firing of inept, but pandering, Vanessa Wilson, and then turns around and says Acevado is bad because he pushed back and was pushed out by the corrupt Cuban mafia in Miami.
Not surprising, he was former SWAT, they run the entire department and have for years with their “club” members. It is the reason the department is in the position it is in, an ex acting chief set it on this course.
I do not understand any implied criticism that APD covered up the officer’s clearly sanctionable and criminal behavior. They out sourced the investigation and potential criminal charging of the incidents so an independent agency would look into them. That seems proper. I “get” the sheriffs and the DA’s are not independent of knowing or working with APD and so even with the out sourcing APD may have had some influence in charging decisions, but what else was there to do at that stage?
I do understand criticism that internal discipline did not include dismissal. I think he should have been dismissed. Once it did not, however, I have no difficulty with the second chance, with the officer putting the matter behind him, with him growing and learning from his mistake and advancing in his career. I hope that advancement came slower than normal and with remedial work, training, and therapy.
For me the story here is once he was given the second chance what has he done with it. Has he had any disciplines since the incidents? Has he left the young lady alone since then? Also, what would have been a normal career track for an officer without this incident compared to his career track? Maybe the incident slowed or damaged his career track and he is still paying a price for his behavior, reprehensible and criminal as it was.
This story is written as criticism. I appreciate that. The matter should have been brought to light and the free press did so. The story might also be one of redemption, of second chances being seized. Of careers corrected. of lessons learned, but we don’t know if that is the case or if this is a case of cronyism, of nothing learned and power simply abused.
Has their been firther incidents?
Did he recieve remedial training?
Has he been exemplary since this incident?
Was his career progression slowed by the incident?
These are questions I would like for the Sentinel to have explored.
Exploring both sides is the territory of actual journalism. You’ll find little of that here.
F*** off, APD. I’m no longer going to spend the energy to respond with anything more thoughtful than that. They don’t deserve it.
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