GLENDALE- Matthew Haltzman is frustrated.
The attorney represents the family of John Pacheaco Jr., who was killed by a Glendale police officer on Halloween 2020 in a seventeen-shot barrage. Haltzman sees the incident as entirely unjustified, particularly given that the cops in question fired into a moving vehicle — a controversial tactic that’s been forbidden in Denver since 2015, when seventeen-year-old Jessie Hernandez was gunned down behind the wheel of an allegedly stolen car.
Haltzman is gathering material for a potential wrongful death lawsuit even as he’s advocating for criminal charges in the case. But nearly six months later, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann’s office, which is charged with investigating the matter, still hasn’t issued a decision letter — and Haltzman thinks the trial of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who’s been charged with murder in the 2020 death of George Floyd, is a big reason why.
“We believe they are taking a non-position in light of the changing attitudes in policing and, of course, the ongoing Chauvin trial,” Haltzman says. “Trying to avoid bad coverage. Mostly a political decision, sadly.”
Denver DA’s office spokesperson Carolyn Tyler declines to address this claim or Haltzman’s assertion that “based on our review, this appears to be the longest officer-involved shooting investigation in the last decade without a decision on charges.” But she makes it clear a determination about potential prosecution is hardly imminent.
“We are waiting on some forensics to finalize our investigation and I expect we will announce the findings in the next couple of months,” Tyler says.
The sequence of events that led to Pacheaco’s death started just before 10 p.m. on October 31, when a reportedly stolen Dodge pickup truck driven by Pacheaco came to a stop on Colorado Boulevard not far from the Alameda intersection. A few minutes later, with the truck still stationary, a Glendale officer pulled up behind it. Shortly thereafter, other units arrived and parked in a way intended to make escape impossible. The truck subsequently rolled forward into one police car before shifting into reverse and hitting more vehicles to the rear. At that point, the cops started shooting — and Pacheaco didn’t survive.
Here’s a very brief cell-phone video showing officers advancing with guns drawn as the truck moves backwards:
A second video located by Haltzman is surveillance footage that shows the truck entering the frame at around the 4:40 mark, after which police arrive. The truck begins moving at about 9:50 into the video, after which triggers are pulled:
As Haltzman points out, the risks of shooting into moving vehicles are well-known — and he sees a corollary between such actions and those that took Floyd’s life.
“It’s interesting that the testimony on Chauvin centers so much around training and policy in juxtaposition to John’s death,” he notes. “It seems like a no-brainer given the very clear policies set out for shooting into cars. Compound that with the fact that Denver PD, who should have reported first in the jurisdiction, would have been absolutely barred from firing into the vehicle.”
Since Pacheaco’s death, information about the case has been difficult to come by for his loved ones. “The police and DA have not provided a single update to John’s mom since the beginning of the case, which is unprecedented,” he contends. “The autopsy came out a month ago.”
The Glendale Police Department is not commenting to the media on the Pacheaco shooting because the case is now in the hands of the Denver DA’s office.
The Floyd trial should be long over by the time McCann and company determine if they will accuse anyone of wrongdoing in Pacheaco’s death.
“The upshot is that we fear that by waiting to announce anything, DA McCann is essentially letting public awareness die down so that if she announces there will not be any prosecution, there will be very little repercussion on her office,” Haltzman concludes. “To call this a ‘good shooting’ would set a terrible precedent.”
Michael Roberts for Westword