BRIGHTON, Colo. (KDVR) — A Problem Solvers investigation found the Brighton Police Department engaged in three high-speed pursuits that resulted in death or people being ejected from a vehicle in a period of fewer than two months last year.
In all three chases, internal investigations found problems either with how the chase started or how it was terminated.
In the most recent crash, which occurred on Oct. 26, police were pursuing a stolen vehicle driven by Nicholas Villarini through a residential neighborhood.
Two innocent bystanders, 25-year-old Gustavo Mosqueda and 21-year-old Dulce Castro, were killed that day. Castro was a passenger in a vehicle that was hit by the car Villarini was driving. Mosqueda was walking in his own neighborhood when he was struck.
Dashcam video obtained by the Problem Solvers shows Villarini speeding through at least seven stop signs and disregarding multiple yield signs while he was trying to get away from former Brighton Police Officer Charles Hundley.
Villarini is charged with two counts of first-degree murder among other charges.
Hundley was fired in January and did not respond to the Problem Solvers’ request for an interview by the time this story aired.
“It was negligence, honestly,” said Maricruz Mosqueda, Gustavo’s older sister.
“No one was doing their job correctly that day,” said Analucia Mosqueda, Gustavo’s younger sister.
Records requests and investigations
The Problem Solvers filed open records requests on Nov. 3 for dashcam video, bodycam video and incident reports from the deadly crash.
The City of Brighton initially denied the requests, saying that “disclosure may jeopardize an ongoing investigation.” FOX31 pushed back and eventually received videos related to the deadly incident and other police-related pursuit crashes at a cost of more than $435.
The Problem Solvers also obtained an internal memo showing the deputy police chief never officially recommended an internal affairs investigation into the deadly crash until Nov. 22, nearly a month after the crash. However, the city manager said the city discussed an internal affairs investigation “right away.”
The City of Brighton said it did not have a contract in place with an outside agency until November, but staff “began to initiate conversations with the consultant for the investigation on October 29, 2021. Following that, the city had to follow the procurement process,” according to Linda Ong, a spokesperson for the City of Brighton.
The investigation, which was completed by Santo Consulting, LLC, an external group, in January 2022, found the chase should not have been initiated.
“There was no violent felony crime being committed or other act of violence that required the suspect to be immediately pursued,” the independent report found.
Colorado State Patrol said it also completed an investigation of the crash in mid-February and delivered the results to the Brighton Police Department and to the 17th Judicial District Attorney’s office for review, but the Problem Solvers have not yet received that report.
What happened before the chase
Body camera video obtained by the Problem Solvers showed Hundley first confronted Villarini while Villarini was asleep in a “suspicious” stolen car at the end of a residential road.
Villarini had several misdemeanor convictions on his record at the time but had not been accused of any recent or imminent violent crime.
“Officer Hundley did not establish exigent circumstances to pursue a stolen vehicle,” the Santo Consulting LLC report found.
According to the Brighton Police Department policy at the time, “vehicle pursuits are generally not authorized for property crimes, including stolen vehicles, absent exigent circumstances.”
Prior to the start of the chase, video obtained by the Problem Solvers showed Hundley approaching the vehicle to get Villarini’s name and date of birth as well as the name of the passenger with him.
He returned to his patrol vehicle to wait for backup.
Someone on the police radio asked whether the stolen vehicle could be “pinched,” a police term for blocking the car, but Hundley responded by saying the tactic was unnecessary.
“There is no need to pinch. They’re already parked, not moving. I have my patrol vehicle in front of them,” Hundley responded.
Less than a minute later, body camera video showed Brighton Police Commander Nick Struck attempting to block Villarini with his unmarked pickup truck by pulling to the front of the stolen vehicle.
That’s when Villarini tried to pull away from the scene.
As he fled the area, he clipped the front of Struck’s vehicle and then put the stolen car in reverse before pulling around Hundley’s patrol car and speeding away.
Following the chase, Police Chief Paul Southard said Struck’s vehicle had been “rammed.”
What was learned during the chase investigation?
Hundley told investigators that he initiated the pursuit “because he believed the suspect…committed 2nd degree assault on a police officer and felony menacing when he hit Commander Struck’s vehicle.”
However, the outside review found, “The 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office did not accept charges of either 2nd degree assault on a police officer or felony menacing” against Villarini.
“Officer Hundley never expressed concern about public safety or south direction on air from a supervisor.
Based on increasing risks to public safety, Officer Hundley should have discontinued the pursuit when he witnessed the suspect’s reckless driving, high rates of speed through residential neighborhoods, and near-miss accidents with uninvolved motorists,” the review found.
The review also found flaws with how the commander handled the chase.
“Commander Struck did not take immediate control of the pursuit after Officer Hundley drove off,” the review found, and the investigation found he “did not exercise control in supervising the pursuit or provide clear direction to the officers to terminate the pursuit.”
An administrative appeal has been filed regarding any discipline that may have been handed down to Struck.
As a result, the city would not reveal what the initial discipline may have been to the Problem Solvers.
Criminal justice experts review video
The Problem Solvers asked two experts to review the video from the crash and others at the Brighton Police Department. Dr. Paul Taylor is a former police officer and assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver whose studies focus on police decision-making. Dr. Dennis Kenney, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, co-authored a U.S. Justice Department-funded study about police pursuits.
“Unless that person is actively trying to harm people, and I think that there is an imminent and continued threat that this person’s going to be harming people actively if I don’t stop them now, pursuing someone in a residential neighborhood, in the middle of the day, is not a good idea,” Taylor said.
Kenney said the fact that the suspect’s vehicle struck the unmarked police vehicle while he was trying to get away was enough of a reason to “attempt to make a traffic stop,” but “I would not consider it justification for a pursuit.”
“There are only a few things that can happen when a pursuit happens, and most of them are bad,” Kenney said.
“They present a real risk, and that risk certainly needs to be weighed,” Taylor said.
The Problem Solvers’ Lori Jane Gliha looked into two other recent Brighton Police Department pursuits that ended with crashes, and one of them involved Officer Hundley. See what the city manager had to say and what happened in those instances Thursday night on FOX31 News at 9.