DENVER -- Three Denver police officers have been cleared in a deadly shooting related to the escape of an inmate from Denver Health Medical Center last March.
The Denver District Attorney said the officers acted with a reasonable fear that the men inside the car might be about to shoot them.
Police thought they were chasing the suspect, 23-year-old Mauricio Venzor-Gonzalez, when they killed someone else.
Venzor-Gonzalez escaped from police custody on March 19 after being brought to Denver Health for a medical appointment.
Hours later, police engaged in a high speed chase because they thought Venzor-Gonzalez was in the car. He wasn't, but the driver of the vehicle fled the scene and was fatally shot by police.
Police fired nearly 50 rounds into the GMC Acadia thinking the two men inside were about to shoot at them because they refused officer commands and appeared to be looking for something in the center console after leading police on a high speed chase.
The driver, Steven Nguyen, died while his passenger, Rafael Landeros survived.
Police had been staking out the home of Venzor-Gonzalez's girlfriend who detectives say helped him escape.
When police spotted the suspicious car, they thought Venzor-Gonzalez was the passenger and tried to pull the vehicle over, which led to the chase.
Neither Nguyen or Landeros fired at police, but investigators say that moments before the shooting they threw out an item officers thought was a weapon.
The item turned out to be a box containing meth, but investigators did find a handgun in the stolen vehicle.
After the SUV crashed, three officers fired their guns but only two actually hit Nguyen.
The Denver District Attorney said both officers acted with a reasonable fear that the men inside the car might be about to shoot them.
Landeros would later admit knowing Venzor-Gonzalez but denied he was driving around the girlfriend's house to help Venzor-Gonzales elude police.
The FBI eventually caught Venzor-Gonzalez in August.
Venzor-Gonzalez's girlfriend, Samantha Adams, has been charged with helping him escape from deputies at Denver Health.
Detectives say she admitted to parking near the hospital with a getaway car and drove him away after he jumped the fence.
Steven Nguyen's family released a statement through a lawyer Tuesday saying the number of shots fired by DPD was "excessive" and "egregious."
Three officers with the Denver Police Department fired almost 50 times at Steven Nguyen, striking him in the head and lungs despite never seeing a weapon and never being fired upon.
On June 15, 2015, DPD adopted a deadly force policy that prohibits shooting at a moving or fleeing vehicle unless the officer is being shot at.
Steven’s death is a test of that policy and the City’s ability to hold itself accountable. The excessive number of shots fired is particularly egregious because it was fueled by a
dispatch from detectives who could not positively identify the passenger in Steven’s car; they falsely reported “to a 100% certainty” that he was an escapee wanted for shooting at police.
These detectives were wrong, and Steven, his family, and 3 year old son will now suffer as a result. Despite their loss, Steven’s family is prepared to work with the Denver Police Department to secure accountability and promote safety during future police-citizen encounters.AlertMe