Exclusive: Police change report after mother's death in murder-suicide

Family questions Littleton police decisions

LITTLETON, Colorado -  

 

It was a busy day at Subway and Tyler Jewkes was working a double shift on only a few hours’ sleep.

His phone kept ringing but he didn’t really have time to answer. Finally on a break, he took a call from his grandmother.

“Hey Tyler, are you busy?” he remembers her asking.

“What’s going on?” he responded.

“Can I tell you something?” she continued.

Jewkes says he realized at that moment something was wrong.

"Your mom passed.”

“I took a minute to try to process it, then I had to go back to work,” 18-year-old Jewkes says now. “It was kinda busy.”

The next call came from his little brother. Police took the 14 year old to the police station and they wouldn’t tell him why.

Without thinking, Jewkes wrote a text to his mom: What’s going on?

Christa Benton never responded.

At the police station, the boys learned the 37-year-old Benton died at the hands of her boyfriend, David Fallon, who shot her before turning the gun on himself.

Her son, Tyler Jewkes, believes it all could have been prevented. Twelve hours before the murder-suicide he called 911 about the emergency unfolding in his apartment.

His mom and her boyfriend were in a violent fight. His mom was hurt and her boyfriend might have had a gun, he told the 911 operator.

Records show police spent less than 30 minutes investigating. They didn’t arrest anyone. And now information uncovered by Denver7 Investigates suggests police tried to erase the truth about how they responded that morning.

“She is screaming about her neck right now.” 

The sounds of shouting and cursing cut through the night on January 6. Then came a loud fall and a scream.

"I jumped out of bed," Tyler Jewkes remembers. "I ran out into the kitchen … my mom was laying on the ground … I helped her up. She was like, 'He pulled my hair and pulled me on the ground.'"

It was after 2 a.m. but Jewkes says he’d heard enough. He decided to call 911.

In his recorded call he asks not for police but for an ambulance.

Dispatcher: What do you need it for?

Jewkes: Um... my mom and her boyfriend got into a fight. And she is screaming about her neck right now.

During the seven-minute 911 call Jewkes told the dispatcher the couple was still fighting "pretty badly" and it was physical, involving pushing and hitting.

He told the dispatcher the fighting had happened before.

And he told the dispatcher his mom’s boyfriend had a gun but he didn’t know for sure whether the gun was in the apartment or not. "I wouldn’t doubt it," he said on the recording.

In Jewkes’ eyes, the situation was serious. But he says he didn’t get the same feeling from the police officers who showed up to their Littleton apartment.

"I don't know if they were annoyed or if they were doing other stuff at that time, but you could just tell that they wanted to get out of there," Jewkes says. 'They didn't want to be there. They just did whatever they could as quick as they could to continue on with their night.”

Jewkes says the officers asked him and his brother a few questions, talked to his mom and her boyfriend, then left. They never sent the ambulance Jewkes asked for. Police said Christa declined medical help.

"They came and said she didn't have any visible marks and since I didn't see him pull her hair or pull her to the ground … since no one saw it happen.. I just, like… I don't know if they didn't believe me or what," he tells Denver7 Investigates.

Jewkes was surprised when police left without arresting Fallon. It was the most serious fight he’d ever witnessed between his mom and her boyfriend – and he says fights were common between the couple.

"He put on the nice guy act and they bought it," Jewkes says. "You know, [he] makes it sound like he did nothing wrong, like he was in the right.”

Records from Littleton police show officers were on scene for 27 minutes before leaving without arresting anyone. The report filed by the responding officer that morning says simply:

"Allegations of physical contact but no evidence."

“That a-hole tried to break my neck! On my way to the ER”

About 30 minutes after police left the apartment, Christa Benton began pouring out her pain and anger on Facebook.

At 3:51 a.m. she wrote:

Jewkes says he couldn’t sleep after police left. He stayed up with his mom, trying to help her find a ride to work at Subway, where she also worked. She needed to be there at 6 a.m.

"She was still, even after all that, worried about going to work and providing for everybody. That's who she was,” Jewkes says.

Ultimately Christa decided her neck hurt too much to work.

At 5:30 a.m. she posted another Facebook update:

A coworker gave Christa a ride to Littleton Hospital. Medical records obtained by Denver7 Investigates show doctors ordered a CT scan and diagnosed Benton with a cervical strain from a physical assault. 

Records show doctors prescribed pain medication, referred her to a victim’s advocate, and discharged her with documents saying, “As we discussed I strongly suggest staying with friends or family until you can find a better living situation.”

Christa told the ER staff she had a safe place to go. But her Facebook posts continued to reflect turmoil.

"Now I need to find out how I'm going to get money so I can eat today and get my prescription." she wrote at 9:31 a.m.

At 1:02 p.m. she wrote, "Sitting here waiting for Tyler Jewkes at Taco Bell so I can get a dollar for my pain meds can’t take the pain anymore!!!!!!"

Jewkes says he took a break in the middle of his double shift to ride the bus and meet up with his mother. She had no money – not even the $1 co-pay she needed to fill her prescription from the ER doctor. 

“When I saw her, it was just like she couldn't move her neck whatsoever. She had to move her whole body to talk to me. That was hard… to see that,” Jewkes says. 

It was payday for Jewkes so he helped his mom buy a pack of cigarettes, a soda and a small bottle of liquor. He gave her money so she could have a better night than the one before.

Mother and son said their goodbyes. Jewkes told her to be safe. She told her son she planned to lock herself in her room and drink the little bottle of liquor. Christa was headed home.

"I didn't think it was gonna be the last time I saw her," her son says.  

One in a million

The people who loved Christa Benton paint a picture of a woman who took care of everyone she held dear, loved to laugh, and lived loud.

"She had a really big love for music… she just played music all night," her son Tyler Jewkes says. "She didn't care if anyone needed to be up."

Christa and her longtime friend Evvie Trujillo were concert buddies in their youth, and Christa liked her music loud. Trujillo says Christa loved the band Korn so much she named her 14-year-old son after the band’s frontman.

"She was a wonderful, wonderful person. One of the coolest people I have ever met," Trujillo says. "I am very blessed to know somebody like her."

Trujillo says she and her friend Christa would always spend most of their conversations laughing.

"She had a very unique laugh. Every time she'd laugh it would make me laugh. I can hear her laugh in my head right now," Trujillo says. "I'll never hear her laugh again."

Trujillo says Christa’s kids were her world. Jewkes felt the same way.

"She always … pushed people to be the best that they could be," he remembers of his mom. "She took care of others more than she did herself."

Christa even took care of the man who police say ultimately took her life. Christa's mother told investigators she urged her daughter many times to break it off with David Fallon because she often called crying about his abuse.

Christa’s response: she tried to make him leave but Dave had nowhere else to go. 

“Guess I’ll starve today and stay in pain”

Evvie Trujillo remembers having a sudden feeling one January day she needed to reach out to Christa Benton.

She followed her instincts and sent a text.

"I asked her how she was and found out that she wasn't doing very good at all," Trujillo told Denver7. "A lot of things she told me were very disturbing … She was very very unhappy and just miserable."

Trujillo and Christa worked at Subway together when they were 15 and had been friends ever since.

Trujillo lived in Loveland and Christa lived in Littleton, so they sometimes went months without talking. Trujillo says they could always pick up right where they left off when they talked. But that last time it was clear things were not going well for Christa. Her boyfriend wasn’t working.

"She was barely making ends meet. She was telling me that her and her kids didn't really have a Christmas because she couldn't afford it. You know it's either bills or Christmas. She informed me that she and her kids were going to bed hungry every night. They didn't have enough money for food," Trujillo remembers.

"She would have to be at work at 6 in the morning and she wasn't able to drive. She didn't have a car. So at that time it was pretty cold and she would have to get up at like 4 in the morning … walk to work. And it was a long walk, like miles. And Dave wouldn't give her a ride."

Trujillo was floored. She offered to wire her friend some money so she and her sons could eat.

"I had offered to get her a ride to work as well because I didn't want her walking at 4 in the morning in 6-degree weather. … She, stubborn as ever, didn't want it. I said if you change your mind, let me know. I'll make sure you get a ride to work," TrujIllo says.

Trujillo said she woke up the morning of Jan. 6 to another text from Christa. She wouldn’t need a ride to work after all, the text said. Dave tried to break her neck.

Trujillo texted, begging for details, begging to talk on the phone. Christa kept posting updates on Facebook. She wrote, "Guess I'll starve today and stay in pain" at around 9 a.m. The two friends finally talked later in the day for about an hour.

"I told her you know you need to get out of there. You need to just leave. Don't be around him. Just go somewhere else. [But] she really had nowhere else to go."

After that call Christa met her son and picked up her pain medication. Then she headed home for what proved to be the last time. 

“I think I’ve been shot.”

A 911 operator had a hard time understanding the woman who called for help at 2:20 p.m. on Jan. 6.

The woman slowly recited her address (off by one digit.) She said she needed help. The woman moaned often and breathed heavily.

Dispatchers asked her questions trying to determine what was wrong. Was she clammy? Did she have asthma?

At one point she responded, "I think I've been shot."

The dispatcher didn’t understand and continued asking questions trying to figure out what was wrong.

He told her to save her breath. She breathed deliberately, in and out.

About nine minutes into the 911 call a dog barks. Paramedics arrived, expecting to find a woman having trouble breathing. Instead they found Christa Benton and David Fallon, both shot in the head. Fallon was dead. Christa was alive but gravely injured.

"She's still breathing," a paramedic is heard saying before Christa's phone ends her call with 911.

Police said the bullet went in through Christa’s left cheek and out the right side of her neck. A neighbor heard a loud noise that sounded like a gunshot somewhere between 30-to-50 minutes before Christa called 911.

Benton and Fallon’s 14-year-old son arrived home from school just as his mother was being loaded into an ambulance.

In the ambulance, police records indicate that Christa told paramedics David shot her.

She returned to Littleton Hospital for the second time in one day.

Doctors pronounced Christa Benton dead at 3:56 p.m.

"Are we getting press requests on this?"

"Yes."

"We are? Shit.”

A flurry of activity began on the police radio as soon as paramedics called for help. They thought they were responding to a medical call but found a crime scene.

Littleton police locked down the nearby high school, unsure whether the person who shot David Fallon and Christa Benton was still on the run. But it didn’t take long for the reality of the situation to sink in.

"Can I tell you something?" a dispatcher asked a police official who called to get the address for the shooting. "Yes," the official responded. "We were out on a disturbance there at 2 in the morning … and that was a party with a gun," the dispatcher relayed.

The lockdown at the high school with a crime scene nearby drew the attention of local media. A Denver7 reporter called the police department asking for information before reporting live outside the apartment building.

"The news is calling!" a dispatcher announced.

In the hours after police responded to the murder-suicide scene, an unidentified official calls dispatchers with a question.

"Are we getting press requests on this?"

"Yes," the dispatcher answered.

"We are? Shit!" came the response.

"She said she understood."

Informed sources tell Denver7 Investigates word began to spread quickly in the Littleton Police Department about that 27-minute visit to Benton and Fallon’s apartment 12 hours before the murder-suicide.

The visit that left Tyler Jewkes with the impression that police were in a hurry to leave. The visit that left Christa Benton trying to find her own ride to the hospital. The visit that left David Fallon free to kill Christa.

The visit with a corresponding police report only one sentence long.

On March 9, Denver7 Investigates requested "all reports and records created or written referencing any and all police activity" at the apartment building where Benton and Fallon lived between Jan. 4 and Jan. 31.

In response, the city turned over a six-paragraph, two-page report that offers a lot more details about what happened the morning of Jan. 6:

This report says Fallon told officers Benton yelled about hurting her neck when she slipped and fell on the coffee she spilled during the argument.

The city did not provide the original one-sentence report in response to the initial records request from Denver7 Investigates. Denver7 asked Littleton city officials three times via email for prior versions of the Jan. 6 reports without response.

On April 25, Denver7 filed a new public records request for the entire case file for the murder-suicide.

On May 9, Littleton released the 130-page case file which contained a report not previously released to Denver7: the one-sentence report the city failed to turn over in its original response. A timestamp on the report says it was printed Jan. 6 at 3:43 p.m. -- that's after police responded to the murder-suicide.

"They don't arrest her boyfriend, the report is two sentences long, and then it changes after the murder-suicide. Does that bother you?" Denver7 chief investigative reporter Tony Kovaleski asked Christa Benton’s friend Evvie Trujillo.

"Yeah," she responded. “It seems as though it was changed to maybe fix something, or cover up for their shortcomings.”

Tyler argued strongly with one line in the new report which claimed Christa told police her boyfriend pulled her hair and that aggravated a pre-existing neck injury.

"They added information that they wouldn't have known before she died. Like you know 'a pre-existing neck injury.' She had no problems with her neck," the son says. "She was fine until he pulled her hair."

Tyler believes that detail may have been added to explain why his mother had a diagnosed injury but her boyfriend was not arrested for causing it.  

"If she would've had an injury before she would've told me. Because we were close like that," he says.

The medical report from Christa’s visit to the emergency room the morning of her death makes no mention of any pre-existing neck condition.

“She was afraid of him.”

The morning of Jan. 6 marked at least the sixth time in five years Littleton police responded to the apartment and documented reports of trouble between Christa Benton and David Fallon.

"They would argue and it would just escalate to slamming stuff around and pushing each other and eventually it would get bad enough that someone would call the cops," Tyler says.

In 2012, a friend of Christa's called 911 indicating Christa's boyfriend slammed her head through the door the previous night. Follow-up notes indicate a dispatcher told the friend police checked with Christa and she was fine.

In 2013, police dispatchers noted someone called saying Fallon was crazy and broke down the door earlier that morning. The corresponding police report says simply: "Domestic dispute/verbal only. No crimes occurred."

Nine months before the murder-suicide, records indicate Benton and Fallon's 14-year-old son called 911 to complain his parents were fighting, it might have been physical, and his mother had bruises on her back and arm. Police again left without arresting Fallon.

In each report, police wrote they found no evidence of a crime.

David Fallon was never arrested for any domestic crimes involving Christa Benton.

Police records indicate Littleton PD’s victim advocate attempted to call Christa Benton at least five times over the years but was never able to speak with her. Christa either did not return the calls or gave incorrect phone numbers to the responding officers.

"Their relationship wasn't healthy at all. It was very, very very toxic," Trujillo says. "She was afraid of him. When she was with him, she couldn't be the real Christa, shall we say. She couldn't see any of her friends, he didn't like them. He just kept her very secluded."

The couple’s son told police after their deaths his father was a "mean person" who had been hitting his mother for years. Police wrote the 14-year-old "said he was sad because the police couldn’t prove his father hurt his mother so they left" on the day of the murder-suicide. The boy said that before police told him his parents were dead.

A neighbor told police she heard the couple arguing almost daily, usually in the middle of the night. She heard them screaming at each other the morning of Jan. 6 too and she saw police arrive. But the officers did not try to talk to her before they left.

It’s not clear if the officers who responded to Benton and Fallon’s apartment that morning of Jan. 6 were aware of the couple’s history. A call history is not discussed on the police radio recording, and there is no mention of prior calls in the police report except a mention by Fallon that Benton was always trying to get him arrested. 

Probable Cause

Colorado’s domestic violence code is referred to by those in police and legal circles as a "mandatory arrest" law. A Colorado Springs criminal defense attorney wrote in a blog about the state’s law, "Basically, you need to know, if police are called, someone is going to jail."

"It is a low bar [for arrest]," says DoraLee Larson, executive director of the Denver Domestic Violence Coordinating Council. "And that's intentional because there are so many of us in the field of domestic violence prevention who have spent a lot of time trying to get people to pay attention to it and treat it seriously, that there's a lot of information that goes into the statute."

That statute reads in part:

"When a peace officer determines that there is probable cause to believe that a crime or offense involving domestic violence … has been committed, the officer shall, without undue delay, arrest the person suspected of its commission…"

Colorado's law defines domestic violence this way:

"…an act or threatened act of violence against a person whom the defendant has an intimate relationship with…"

"Officers are mandated to arrest the predominant aggressor in domestic violence cases if probable cause dictates that a crime has been committed," says Larson.

The key point in the Benton-Fallon case is "probable cause." Littleton PD's more detailed report of the events 12 hours before the murder suicide says police did not find "enough" probable cause to arrest Fallon. But Larson says she believes both the 911 call recording and the police report spell out several pieces of probable cause.

"It goes back to the statement that the victim made that he injured my neck. That in and of itself should be enough to basically arrest the perpetrator," she says. "If she says she was injured, if the son is saying she was injured, he heard that, and the other son is saying the same thing. Seems to me that's a lot of probable cause right there."

"Is it black and white, or gray?" Denver7 chief investigative reporter Tony Kovaleski asked Larson.

"In my mind, it's black and white," she responded.

Records analyzed by Denver7 Investigates show Littleton police more often than not do not make arrests when they respond to calls and write domestic reports.

Denver7 Investigates obtained more than two years' worth of police call data from Littleton police after requesting a database of all Littleton PD calls of a domestic nature. The records showed LPD officers have written close to 1,100 police reports with the titles "domestic/criminal" or "domestic/verbal." The data shows police have made less than 300 arrests in connection with those reports, suggesting an arrest rate of about 27 percent.

Littleton takes issue with that figure because some incidents that could be domestic-related may not necessarily have reports with "domestic" in the title.

"Officers title their reports based on the type of incident and investigation. For example, homicide, assault and harassment can be domestic-related, or not, but it won’t be included in the [data provided by Littleton] because the word 'domestic' is not in the title," the city clerk Wendy Heffner wrote in a letter to Denver7. City officials did not reply to multiple attempts by Denver7 to clarify how many such cases exist.

By contrast, similar data obtained from the Denver Police Department shows that department’s officers made arrests in about 71 percent of calls they designated to be domestic violence-related.

“Someone needs to be accountable.”

The anger Tyler Jewkes feels about the last day of his mom's life is raw and apparent in his eyes. He called 911 for help and he says he didn't get it.

"They did not do their job whatsoever. I called them to come and assist me with this … angry guy trying to kill everybody. They come in, I tell them what I saw and what I heard and they pretty much said I didn't see enough for them to make an arrest," Tyler says.

"They basically told her it was her word against his and there's nothing they can do to help her," Trujillo says. "That's your job, to protect and serve. I don't feel like she was protected in any way."

Denver7 Investigates requested to interview the chief of Littleton police to ask the questions still lingering for Christa’s family and friends. Why wasn’t Fallon arrested when Benton told police he hurt her? Why did Benton have to find her own way to the hospital for treatment of her injury? Why did police only spend 27 minutes investigating? Why did police change their report after the murder-suicide? And why do Littleton police make arrests in connection with less than 30 percent of the domestic reports they write?

"Those questions need to be raised … and they need to be answered," Trujillo says.

But Littleton’s police chief, Doug Stephens (pictured above), declined repeated requests for an interview with Denver7 Investigates.

DoraLee Larson, executive director of the Denver Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, says the public deserves an explanation for why police acted the way they did in this case.

"I believe that there could have been an arrest in this case," Larson says. "Someone needs to be accountable."

It’s not clear whether anyone was held accountable.

Denver7 Investigates requested any records of any discipline handed down in relation to the Benton-Fallon case. A city attorney wrote: "The city is denying your request for records related to disciplinary notes and actions against Littleton police officers or employees, because such records constitute personnel files."

Tyler Jewkes says it doesn’t matter much to him whether anyone was disciplined or whether anyone is sorry.

His mom is dead and that can’t be undone. When asked what he would tell the chief of police if he had the chance, Jewkes says:

"He and his department made a mistake that day by not doing their job and it cost me my mom."

A GoFundMe account has been established to help Christa Benton's sons. Click here for information on how to donate.

 

Tony Kovaleski

Tony Kovaleski is the award-winning chief investigative reporter for Denver7 Investigates. Connect with Tony on Facebook, on Twitter, or by email to Tony@TheDenverChannel.com. If you have a story idea or a tip for our investigative team, email Denver7 Investigates or call our tip line at (303) 832-0285. You can remain anonymous.  

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