ARVADA, Colo. (KDVR) — Destinee Thompson wasn’t the robbery suspect Arvada police were looking for when she was shot dead on Aug. 17, 2021.
Now her family has filed a wrongful death and excessive force lawsuit against five Arvada officers, as the mother of three was shot and killed as she drove away from police.
“I can’t explain how much I miss her. I think about her every day,” said her father, Francis Thompson, who still doesn’t understand why his 7-month pregnant daughter was shot while driving away from police.
“There was no threat. It doesn’t make sense why they pulled their weapon,” Thompson said.
Not the woman police were seeking
Arvada Police had come to the American Motel near Interstate 70 and Kipling Street looking for a female suspect who had just threatened a Target employee with a knife during a shoplifting incident.
A witness to the Target altercation followed the suspect to the American Motel and told dispatchers the suspect was wearing a white tank top, and the store employee told police the suspect had chest tattoos.
According to the lawsuit, Thompson came walking through the motel lobby wearing a white tank top and black pants but did not have a chest tattoo.
She told officers the suspect was staying in room 303 and coming down the elevator after her.
Window smashed, shots fired from behind
But she refused to give her ID to an officer who requested it and instead walked over to her van. She started to drive off, even though she was surrounded by five officers shouting at her to stop.
That’s when a uniformed officer used his baton to smash out the passenger side window to get her to stop.
Instead, Thompson drove away, and as she did, Arvada Police Officer Anthony Benallo fired eight shots at her from behind.
The last bullet hit Thompson, killing her and her unborn son.
“When they fired the fatal shot, she was more than 25 yards away. She was endangering no one,” said Edward Hopkins, an attorney with the law firm Rathod Mohamedbhai, which is representing the Thompson family.
‘Body cam would have equaled charges’
Hopkins claims Benallo violated his department’s own policy by shooting into a moving vehicle.
“If there were body cam (video), there would be charges. Body cam would have equaled charges in this case,” Hopkins said.
Benallo later told investigators he fired his gun because he thought Thompson might have struck and run over a plain-clothed officer who had been standing on the driver’s side of the minivan opposite him.
It turned out the undercover officer was not hit or injured as Thompson drove away.
Arvada Police shared a press release in response to the lawsuit that reads, in part: “The officers had reasonable suspicion to believe that Ms. Delara-Thompson may be involved in the robbery, and they were justified in contacting her during the investigation of a felony offense. Ms. Delara-Thompson unfortunately chose to engage in conduct that the officer reasonably believed posed an imminent threat to the life of another officer. Therefore, he chose to use deadly force to stop that threat.”
The district attorney’s report
Jefferson County District Attorney Alexis King declined to charge the officer, writing in her letter exonerating Benallo: “Officer Benallo’s singular focus on the threat posed by the minivan resulted in his failure to perceive the plain-clothed officer, alive and well, until the minivan was eastbound on the frontage road.”
“I won’t ever be able to meet her baby and know how her baby would be,” said Carmela Delgado, Destinee Thompson’s stepmom.
“Police officers need to be held accountable for justice, so that we don’t have another family sitting in the same chair having to go through this again,” she added.
An autopsy report showed Thompson had drugs in her system, including fentanyl and methamphetamine. She also had a warrant out for her arrest related to a prior conviction for assaulting a peace officer in Adams County.