DENVER (KDVR) — A LaSalle police officer who shot a person during a suspicious vehicle call has been indicted by a grand jury.
Officer Erik Hernandez was working on an investigation after a suspicious vehicle call on May 3 when he and another officer encountered 31-year-old Juston Reffel at the Family Dollar in LaSalle.
According to a release from the Weld County District Attorney’s Office, Reffel ran from the officers and got in his vehicle.
As Reffel was pulling away Hernandez fired four shots and hit him in the “upper torso,” according to the DA.
Reffel was pronounced dead at the scene.
The shooting was investigated and presented to a grand jury, which issued an indictment for one charge of second-degree murder.
Hernandez fired after indictment
LaSalle Police Chief Dave Arnold told FOX31 that Hernandez was on his third day of employment with the department and was in field training.
Arnold said Hernandez, who had close to six years of prior experience with no excessive force complaints, was placed on administrative leave and then later terminated after the murder indictment.
As required by state law and LaSalle Police Department practice and policy, the 19th Judicial District Critical Incident Response Team investigated the case.
In the statement issued Monday, Arnold addressed the victim’s family.
“As the Chief of Police, I extend my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Reffel,” Arnold said.
FOX31’s legal expert explains clear use of force
FOX31 legal expert and former 18th District Attorney George Brauchler said the indictment underscores a clearcut case of excessive force.
“It’s not Hollywood, you don’t get to just shoot at people who are driving away from the cops that’s not how the law works,” Brauchler said.
Brauchler outlined circumstances that justify the use of weapons by law enforcement.
“You get to use deadly force when you’re a police officer if you have an objective reasonable belief that somebody poses an imminent, and that means right now, threat to the life and health of either the officer or somebody else,” Brauchler said.
Brachler added that whether the officer was in training made no difference.
“You can’t really find any protection for the use of lethal force and have only been on the job for a few days, the bullets don’t know how inexperienced that officer is,” Brauchler said.
Hernandez’s bond was set at $50,000 and he is set to appear in court in August.