Legislator questions why Aurora cops didn’t invoke ‘red flag’ law after neighbor complaints against standoff gunman

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AURORA | Nearly a dozen different residents called Aurora police to voice their concerns with a neighbor who last week was arrested after an hours-long standoff that culminated in a shootout with the local SWAT team, prompting at least one state lawmaker to question why an emergency order wasn’t sought to remove the man’s weapons. 

Officer Crystal McCoy, spokesperson for the Aurora Police Department, said a total of 10 people called 911 to report the activity of resident Jeffrey Moralez, 42, related to six separate incidents between late June and July 12. The string of calls began on June 21 when two different residents of the Chaparral Condos in the city’s Summer Valley neighborhood told dispatchers that Moralez was walking around naked for more than four hours while carrying a hammer, but not threatening anybody, McCoy said.

Moralez called police more than a dozen times himself in the weeks leading up to the some 10-hour saga the evening of July 12 that resulted in hours of gunfire and multiple orders for residents to shelter inside their homes. Moralez’s reasons for calling police ranged from reporting perceived gang activity, explaining a water problem in his unit and “even speaking in a flirtatious manner with the call-taker,” McCoy wrote in an email. 

At one point, he also called the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s office after becoming dissatisfied with his interactions with Aurora police. 

Police Chief Vanessa Wilson previously said police were in contact with Moralez — mostly by phone — two dozen times in the weeks leading up to the incident, though he was never suspected of a crime. 

“The 24 contacts are a variety of things, but 16 were him and not criminal in nature and not requiring a police response in most cases,” McCoy wrote.

But Moralez’s behavior escalated in the days before his eventual arrest, according to Leslie Johnson, vice president with Hammersmith, the firm that manages the Chaparral homeowner’s association. 

Johnson said Moralez left about a dozen voicemails for the HOA in the early morning hours of July 10 and July 11 that ranged from complaints about the property to yelling about his prior military service. 

At one point on Monday, he asked police to shoot him and told responding officers that he “had been in Iraq,” according to an arrest affidavit filed against him.

Johnson said she forwarded the messages to police upon hearing them at her office Monday morning. 

“The one that really made us go to the police was where he was raising his voice and yelling,” she said. “ … Then he was kind of bouncing around a little bit and not making much sense.”

Johnson said Moralez has lodged complaints with the HOA in the past, but they have generally been legitimate concerns about the property. She said she didn’t know what may have prompted him to inundate her firm with messages last weekend. 

An Aurora man whose 62-year-old father has lived in a unit close to Moralez’s for the past eight months described Moralez as “a complete nightmare for the community.” The resident asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, and The Sentinel is honoring that request.

He said Moralez emailed his father shortly before his impasse with Aurora police in which he complained about his neighbor’s doormat and dog. 

“Your welcome mat is in common area airspace, and I’m a Resident Owner on a VA government loan oh, I applied for with the intent of being in the owner-occupant,” the email sent at 6:39 p.m. on July 12 reads. “Not some faggy little wannabe landlord. Do not make me call and have a pizza delivered. Tik Tok faggets. In the next time I hear you for speeding peanut butter covered face 18th hardened chicken to that stupid dog I’m a come up there and do it you would have far f****** ivory.”

McCoy said that none of Moralez’s previous contacts with the department prompted officers to consider pursuing an extreme risk protection order under a relatively new state law that could have stripped him of his weapons. 

She said such an order, which is filed through the civil division of county court, was on the table following his actions the weekend of July 9, but officials weren’t able to pursue the legal tool in the six hours between their initial contact with him on July 12 and the eventual shootout early the next morning.

“There was not enough to pursue an ERPO in any contacts until the HOA reached out to our (crisis response team) which caused our CRT officer and clinician to respond to his house on that day at 1 p.m. … a few hours later at 7 p.m. is when the scene escalated,” McCoy wrote in an email. “ … It takes time and in this case officers only had about 6 hours to pursue it. However, he committed a crime during the event by pointing a gun at an officer so an ERPO is no longer necessary as a (restraining order) will go in place.”

Court records show a mandatory protection order was granted in Moralez’s criminal case on July 15. 

Democratic state Rep. Tom Sullivan, who originally sponsored the legislation that created the state’s so-called red flag law in 2019, said the measure that went into place on Jan. 1, 2020 was designed to curb incidents like the one in Aurora last week. 

“It’s very concerning,” he said. “ It’s puzzling as to why an agency isn’t taking advantage of that law. If you just have a two-tiered system where it’s either law enforcement or family, and if there is no family, then it’s incumbent on law enforcement to take care of it.”

Sullivan lamented the rigidity of the law that only allows an immediate household member, relative by blood or marriage, or local police to initiate the process of taking away a person’s firearms without their consent for a probationary period before a court can extend the order for up to a year. 

“There are people who are alone like the theater shooter,” said Sullivan, whose son, Alex, was killed in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting. “He removed himself from all of his family and friends even when his parents were warned about what was going to happen or what could happen … That’s why it’s important with this whole ‘see something, say something’ thing; we have to give people the ability to say it.”

It’s unclear how many petitions for extreme risk protection orders have been filed in Aurora’s three counties in the law’s first 18 months of existence. A request for county-level data filed by The Sentinel with the Colorado Judicial Department is pending. 

Earlier this year, The Denver Post reported that 112 petitions for the orders were filed last year, a mark below the 170 orders legislative staffers estimated would move through court each year.

Moralez repeatedly refused to speak with members of the department’s crisis response team, which comprises counselors from Aurora Mental Health and Aurora police officers.

Citing healthcare privacy laws, a spokesperson for Aurora Mental Health said they could not provide any additional information. 

A request for the body camera footage captured during the police department’s multiple visits to Moralez’s home July 12 is pending.

Wilson said Moralez had previously been admitted for mental health treatment using a state law that allows officials to hold people for evaluation for up to 72-hours. It’s unclear when that evaluation took place. 

Moralez again refused to meet with professionals the afternoon of July 12, about seven hours before he reportedly pointed a gun at officers and eventually began shooting at an armored car that became entrenched in mud in front of his condo. 

Police said Moralez paced in and out of home with a black pistol on his waistband several times before he began pointing a rifle equipped with a laser sight at officers from a kneeling position, according to the affidavit filed against him. Authorities with the Arapahoe County bomb squad later found a phony bomb made to look like an incendiary device upon searching Moralez’s condo. 

“Your home is not supposed to be a nightmare because of someone who lives across the hall from you,” Sullivan said of the incident. “ … I don’t think that’s what the people of the City of Aurora want — for bearcats with seven SWAT team members hanging off of it driving through their neighborhoods, especially when that type of stuff can be averted.”

Wilson said police are seeking multiple attempted murder charges against Moralez, who did not have a criminal record in Colorado prior to last week, according to Colorado Bureau of Investigation data. Additional records show Moralez was arrested in Weld County in 2018, but the case was eventually dismissed in county court. 

He is currently being held on a felony menacing charge and a misdemeanor count of “failure to leave premises,” records show. 

After the incident July 12, Moralez was taken to a local hospital for treatment of shrapnel wounds he sustained while exchanging gunfire with officers. He was initially being held in the Arapahoe County jail on a $1 million bond, but he is now being held at the facility in lieu of paying a $250,000 bond, records show. 

No law enforcement personnel were injured in the encounter with Moralez, police reported. A pair of Aurora police officers who fired at the Aurora resident have been placed on paid leave as part of standard department protocol. 

Moralez made a pair of initial court appearances last week in front of two different Arapahoe County judges, according to state court records. 

He’s set to appear before yet another judge for a status hearing where prosecutors will present their charges against him on July 20. 

Moralez is being represented in court by the public defender’s office, which has a policy of not commenting on open cases.

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DENNIS C DUFFY
DENNIS C DUFFY
4 months ago

Gee the police look like inept clowns as does the city officials who rightfully should have used the red flag law I disagree with many of these restraints but obviously this was egregious and this gentleman needs both help and his weapons removed.