Elchin Dadashov has wanted to be a police officer in the United States since he was 10 years old.
He was that age when the Soviet Union collapsed, and the scrim of the iron curtain was lifted from his native Azerbaijan. As a new galaxy of books, films and television shows inundated his world, one movie in particular became ingrained in the mind of the young boy living in an urban area 8 kilometers from the capital city of Baku. It was an American feature that followed Los Angeles police officers as they endeavored to fight crime amid palm trees and neon lights.
“I forget the name of the movie, I mean I’m 39 now,” Dadashov said in a recent phone interview. “But from 10 years (old) I wanted to be a police officer in the United States.”
The Aurora resident made a leap toward that goal in 2018 when he finally made it through the annual green card lottery and made his way to New York. From there, he met an Azerbaijani acquaintance in Colorado and started working security jobs while applying to become a law enforcement officer with various Front Range agencies.
He first applied to positions with the Colorado State Patrol and the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, but twice failed English language examinations administered during the hiring process. He then applied to a position with the police department in Aurora, where he passed the English exam after taking months of language courses, he said. A City of Aurora spokesperson confirmed Dadashov was interviewed on May 19 to become an entry-level officer via the June academy, but his application was rejected two days later.
Aurora allowed non-citizen permanent residents to apply to the city’s police and fire departments in 2019.
Before he applied for a position on the Aurora police force, Dadashov signed up to volunteer with the department as a Russian language interpreter and to aid a volunteer team that is sometimes called upon to search for people who go missing in the city. In January 2020, he got a volunteer identification card, a lanyard and a reflective vest emblazoned with Aurora Police Department text, and waited to participate in the program.
Shortly thereafter, the COVID-19 pandemic threw the department’s volunteers into an indefinite purgatory. The group of mostly senior residents, who are generally assigned clerical and sometimes liturgical work for Aurora police, were told to wait for further instructions.
They’ve yet to receive any, and the program remains effectively paused.
So Dadashov, who served one year in the Azerbaijani army after finishing his university studies in computer programming, continued working as a security guard, mostly trudging through a graveyard shift tasked with protecting marijuana shops across the Front Range. He regularly commuted to Longmont from his home in the city’s Pheasant Run neighborhood via the Denver-Boulder Turnpike in his white Ford Crown Victoria.
After his regular shift on April 19, a Colorado State trooper pulled Dadashov over as he was heading south on Interstate 25 in Denver.
A 31-year-old man called 911 to report Dadashov’s Crown Vic as it sped past him on Highway 36 because it looked “suspicious,” according to recently released Colorado State Patrol records.
In his final report, the trooper who pulled Dadashov over noted the words “special response vehicle” were stamped beside a “fallen hero” vanity plate and a “thin blue line” flag sticker on the outside of his car, which also sported a panel of lights on the roof and a push bar on the front grill.
Inside the car, troopers noticed a cage separating the front and backseats, a laptop mounted on the dashboard and a holstered shotgun along the center console. A reflective vest denoting “Aurora Police volunteer” was draped on the passenger seat.
Trooper Galen Peterson found Dadashov wearing a tidy black uniform bedecked with a reverse American flag on his right shoulder, a black and white “security” patch on the left side of his chest, a bullet-proof vest, and a body-worn camera. He had his “Aurora police” lanyard around his neck, with the “Aurora police volunteer” laminated ID card visible through a clear plastic casing. On his waist he was wearing a duty belt adorned with pepper spray, a Glock handgun and a gold badge bearing the word “officer.”
“At this point, he appeared as a police officer to me,” Peterson, who has worked in the field for seven years, wrote of the initial interaction.
Authorities found three knives, four sets of handcuffs, three handgun magazines and 5.56 millimeter rifle ammunition in the car after determining Dadashov was not employed by Aurora police and he was not a licensed law enforcement professional in Colorado.
Dadashov was briefly placed into handcuffs, but eventually released after Peterson concluded he couldn’t meet the statutory threshold to arrest him as his actions didn’t qualify as impersonating a police officer under state law.
“Upon examining the (Colorado Revised Statutes) we decided that driving aggressively in a patrol car as if an officer trying to get through traffic to a call or to catch up with a traffic violator did not constitute an ‘act’ as in the statute,” Peterson wrote.
The state law outlining the crime of impersonating a peace officer states: “A person who falsely pretends to be a peace officer and performs an act in that pretended capacity commits impersonating a peace officer.”
The language, which was last updated in 2004, is classified as a class 6 felony and carries a punishment of up to 18 months of incarceration and $100,000 in fines.
“It did not qualify based on the statute as a police impersonator,” Trooper Josh Lewis, spokesman for Colorado State Patrol, said about a month after the incident. “An act is essentially something that law enforcement would do, so stopping a vehicle, running with lights activated, effecting an arrest, something like that where a person purports to be a law enforcement officer by their actions.”
Dadashov was insistent that he never used his overhead lights while driving home from Longmont on April 19, according to State Patrol records.
Lewis said the State Patrol investigation into the encounter has been closed, but could be reopened if new information becomes available.
Dadashov was then released, and agreed to follow troopers to a nearby substation for further questioning. He explained that he was a volunteer with Aurora police, and that he had purchased all of his tactical equipment himself as a means of protecting himself during the course of his work as a security guard. He said he keeps his Aurora police-branded material with him “so he is always ready” if police ask him to aid in a missing persons search, or if he passes motorists in distress.
He was let go and never cited or charged with any crime. At the end of his report, Peterson noted “that while we did not feel there was enough to convict based on the ‘act’ portion, that there is a huge perception piece and that if a person felt he was trying to pull them over based on his driving in his appearance, he would have a problem.”
Authorities later returned all of Dadashov’s weapons, which they had seized while he was being questioned.
For his part, Dadashov said he understands the prospect of a police impersonation accusation — a spokesperson for State Patrol titled a press release detailing the April incident “suspected police impersonator” — but that his appearance and equipment are standard for hired security professionals, such as Denver Metro Protection Services and Front Range Patrol. Neither of those companies require patrol workers to be certified with the state licensing board, according to job requirements posted on their websites.
“It’s just some misunderstanding where somebody called,” he said. “That’s why there was no charging.”
Dadashov said he almost never uses the flashing lights atop his car, but he has turned them on various times in Aurora to prevent other motorists from sliding into the back of stuck or stranded cars during winter storms. He said he’s never attempted to pull someone over.
“No, never, I’m not stupid,” he said.
Convicted or suspected police impersonators are common across the country, including those who attempt to scam people on the phone, rob others in person, or simply appear to be in a position of authority.
Such was the case of a Florida man with a history of impersonation who was arrested on a weapons charge near Orlando in March after he was seen leading a police-style motorcycle escort adorned with a gun, pepper spray, a baton, body camera and radio.
The suspect later told police that he carried the weapon he was not permitted to have on his person in an effort to intimidate residents he approached, according to WKMG-TV Orlando.
The dynamic of asserting dominance over others could be one explanation as to why a person would mimic the garb and gear of a police officer, according to Apryl Alexander, associate professor at the University of Denver’s graduate school of professional psychology.
“When I hear about these types of stories … I think about power and control, which is a dynamic that we see in situations like domestic violence and other situations where someone is trying to maintain a position of authority,” she said.
Dadashov is adamant that he procured all of his tactical gear as a means to protect himself while guarding marijuana shops, a notion that has been solidified after robbery attempts at stores he’s stood sentry for, he said. He also keeps freeze-dried meals in his car to give to anyone he may pass who is in peril or trapped in their vehicle in the winter.
“It’s actually standard gear,” Dadashov said of his arsenal. “… For security work, you never know.”
In 2016, a Marine Corps veteran who was working as a security guard at the Green Heart dispensary in Aurora was shot and killed during a late night robbery attempt. The man who was killed, 24-year-old Travis Mason, also had plans to become a police officer, according to family members. He was shot three times, including once in the head, and his murder remains unsolved.
Tim Cullen, CEO of Colorado Harvest Company, a marijuana firm with a shop on East Yale Avenue, said security at dispensaries across the metroplex became “more serious” following Mason’s death five years ago. He said he contracts with a third-party firm that vets the guards who keep tabs on his shop 24 hours a day.
As the industry has found ways to move away from cash-only transactions by implementing cashless ATMs and delivery services via smartphone apps, Cullen said break-in attempts at his store have dwindled.
“We have not had an incident occur at our stores in — knock on wood — it’s been quite a while now, and it’s not dumb luck. It’s a waste of your time to try to get in there,” he said. “I think the word finally got out that there is no cash or product in my stores.”
Still, Dadashov told state troopers that he bought equipment like his tricked out car “for his security job because (of) the ‘presence’ it has,” according to Peterson’s report. “At night he feels it has more impact than a normal vehicle.”
Rick Johnson, a Denver-based private investigator who regularly sniffs out public corruption and fraud cases, said he believes people who wear tactical gear without being sworn peace officers are seeking social grandeur. In 2016, Aurora Public Schools hired Johnson to investigate former school board director Eric Nelson, who was later found to have lied about a slew of credentials on his resume.
“It’s a power trip, obviously,” he said of Dadashov’s actions. “But I find it very unusual that they didn’t cite him or arrest him … I would think Aurora PD would be livid — I mean livid with what’s going on.”
An Aurora detective also spoke with and interviewed Dadashov, but no local charges were recommended. Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said it’s been years since a police impersonator was spotted in Aurora, though any such cases should be thoroughly investigated.
“We do not take that lightly,” she said of the recent incident involving Dadashov.
A spokesperson for Attorney General Phil Weiser’s Office deferred comment on the matter to the office of Denver District Attorney Beth McCann as the incident occurred in her jurisdiction, leaving any potential prosecution to her attorneys. A representative from McCann’s office did not respond to requests for comment by press deadline.
A spokesperson for the Aurora Police Department condemned anyone who imitates a police officer and warned anyone who believes they may be in contact with such a person to turn on their hazard lights, call 911 and drive to a public parking lot.
“Police impersonators can pose a great danger to safety to unsuspecting citizens and officers alike,” Officer Crystal McCoy wrote in an email. “When a citizen is in contact with any officer they should examine their uniform for a police patch, name tag, duty belt gear (body-worn camera, a presence of a police radio, handcuffs, firearms) and can request a department issued business card. They can always call the non-emergency number or 911 if needed to verify the identity of an officer they are in contact with. If in the presence of a police officer they can ask the officer to have a sergeant or any superior to respond to the scene. The situation may allow for a citizen to take out their phone and photograph/video the individual they are in contact with. This is very common for police officers to be filmed or photographed and may aid in identifying an impersonator if that becomes the case.”
Aurora police warned residents to be leery of potential impersonators at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring after a woman claimed she was stopped by a suspected impersonator in late March. The woman later admitted to local prosecutors that she had fabricated the story in an effort to get additional pandemic-related resources from her employer.
The charge of impersonating a police officer has been filed eight times in Aurora’s two judicial districts in the past three years, though only one case was based in the city, and the charge was eventually dismissed, according to spokespeople for the 17th and 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Offices. The lone local accusation was levied against a woman who purported to be a corrections officer as she was applying to get a job as a bounty hunter.
The same woman, who is transgender, has a lengthy criminal history in the state and has previously sued the state Department of Corrections for violating her constitutional rights by incarcerating her in prisons and jails with men.
Other impersonation cases in Arapahoe County centered on a 29-year-old man who authorities said last year contacted a salon worker claiming he was a Lone Tree Police officer, and another 20-year-old man who in 2018 pulled a person over in Elbert County while driving a truck dressed with flashing gold and white lights and a siren, according to court records.
After interacting with Dadashov, authorities confiscated his Aurora police department paraphernalia, officials said in a news release issued last month. The manager of the police department’s volunteer program, Claudine McDonald, said Dadashov has been “effectively taken out of the program.” She said he has received formal communication informing him that he is no longer welcome to lend his efforts as a volunteer.
The entire volunteer program is in the process of being retooled, McDonald said.
But the Azerbaijani national said he is still waiting for a call alerting him that the volunteer program is back up and running, and he’s ready to provide Russian translation services whenever needed. He can also help with Azerbaijani, Ukranian and Turkish in a pinch, too.
For now, he’s studying his English-as-a-second-language homework between security shifts, readying himself to become an American police officer.
“It’s my oldest dream,” he said.
Dadashov said he still drives to work in his decked-out 2009 Crown Victoria, even though he reportedly mentioned to authorities that he would get rid of it, according to the State Patrol report.
He has no criminal history in Colorado, and he’s never made a district court appearance, according to state records.
That Dadashov wasn’t charged with a crime following his recent encounter with the law worries Alexander, who said she hadn’t even heard of the incident until last week.
“One of the biggest concerns in the public right now is lack of accountability and justice,” she said. “ … I just hope nothing comes of this. That’s kind of my biggest worry: What if something does happen and we’re going to look back on this and here was an incident that we didn’t take seriously.”
At the end of his report, Trooper Peterson noted that Dadashov “appeared completely at ease and the tone was conversational,” according to the State Patrol file. He mentioned that he didn’t cite him for possible traffic infractions like driving without a front license plate due to his cooperative attitude.
“He really wants to become a police officer,” he wrote.