AURORA | Aurora police will no longer allow patrol officers to work undercover after an undercover officer killed an extortion suspect during a bungled July 2011 investigation.
The new policy is one of a handful of changes recommended by a Tactical Review Board that investigated the shooting death of 59-year-old Juan Contreras. Aurora police Officer Randy Carroll shot and killed Contreras on July 23, 2011, after police say Contreras, who was trying to extort $50 from an elderly woman whose keys he found, pulled a knife when Carroll tried to arrest him. The review board’s recommendations, all of which Chief Dan Oates has implemented, were unveiled Monday.
Oates convened the review board in the weeks after Contreras’ death and tasked them with looking at the police decisions that lead to the shooting, including the hastily organized undercover sting.
In their report, the TRB said the officers who planned the undercover sting made several mistakes, including using a patrol officer without undercover experience as an undercover officer, failing to clearly define each involved officer’s role, and failing to communicate during the sting.
But, the TRB laid much of the blame for Contreras’ on Contreras himself.
“While the TRB recognizes in this report there were errors and questionable decisions made by the police on July 23, 2011, it is also true that Officer Carroll would not have fired his weapon at Mr. Contreras had Mr. Contreras not attempted to assault Officer Carroll with a deadly weapon,” the report said.
Under the new undercover policy, patrol officers will only be allowed to work undercover in “an extreme extenuating circumstance,” or if they have been authorized by the duty captain. Otherwise, undercover operations are reserved for the specialized units that commonly work undercover.
An Arapahoe County grand jury last year said Officer Carroll should not be charged with a crime for the shooting.
The investigation that lead to Contreras’ death started earlier that morning in a parking lot at East Sixth Avenue and Peoria Street when Contreras found an elderly woman’s car keys in a grocery store parking lot.
Police say Contreras left a note on the woman’s car with a phone number stating she could have her keys back if she paid $50.
The woman called police and officers decided to have Carroll, a patrol officer, lure Contreras rather than use an officer who routinely works undercover. Carroll took off his uniform and drove the woman’s car to meet the man. He did not bring a badge and carried only a .357 revolver in an ankle holster, a police radio and a pair of handcuffs.
Carroll and Contreras met in front of a Family Dollar store near East Colfax Avenue and Peoria Street and Contreras, seated in the driver’s seat of an SUV, told the officer the price had gone up to $100.
At that point, Carroll told Contreras he was a police officer and tried to arrest him. Contreras punched the officer in the face and grabbed a folding knife from the console of the SUV, flicking it several times in an attempt to open it.
Carroll said Contreras also reached behind the console with his other hand. The officer stepped back, drew his weapon and repeatedly told Contreras to drop the knife, according to the report. Carroll also told a nearby witness to step away from the vehicle.
When Contreras, who witnesses described as “amped up,” refused several orders, Carroll shot him three times in his chest, killing him.
Witnesses said Carroll was distraught after the shooting and asked another officer for gloves so he could help treat Contreras before an ambulance arrived.
Contreras’ family said after the shooting he didn’t realize the man who came to get the keys was an officer.