CASTLE ROCK, Colo. - A veteran Castle Rock police officer fired his rifle at a moving car full of burglary suspects, but hit another innocent vehicle in the process. The driver of that second car was a retired cop who thinks the shooting was reckless, but the town has supported the officer's decision to open fire.
In February, Mike Cardella and his wife were driving in their SUV in Castle Rock when they saw a police officer pointing a high-powered rifle along the road.
Cardella pulled over and noticed the officer intended to fire at another vehicle. He crouched over his wife in the front seat to protect her. Suddenly, the car rocked.
"We had been hit," Cardella told CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia.
The high-powered round struck about 24 inches below the windshield on the driver's side.
A veteran Castle Rock police officer fired the shots at a vehicle driven by a burglary suspect -- Tshinbanda Kazadi -- with another alleged accomplice inside.
An arrest affidavit shows the officer believed the fast-moving vehicle and the two men inside to be a threat. Kazadi faces seven charges, including two counts of assault with felony "extreme indifference."
The Douglas County District Attorney's Office conducted a review of the incident that was obtained by CALL7 Investigators. The review, dated March 13, found that the officer broke no laws in firing his weapon because he said he felt he was in danger.
7NEWS is not naming the officer because he faces no charges.
"[The officer] reasonably believed that his own life, the lives of fellow officers, and the lives of the general public in the area were in imminent danger due to the actions of Kazadi," the review stated. "Kazadi's driving constituted an imminent use of deadly physical force."
The officer fired four to five shots from his AR-15 rifle and rotated and kept firing as the speeding vehicle passed, putting Cardella's vehicle into the line of fire, Cardella told Ferrugia.
"I screamed at my wife, Susan, grabbed her and pulled her down and covered her with my body," Cardella said.
Susan Cardella said the incident still haunts her and she's sought the help of a therapist to understand the trauma that she experienced that day.
"Are we okay?" Susan Cardella said. "I wasn't in pain, but my heart just started racing so hard I almost started blacking out, and I've never felt that before."
Mike Cardella said the initial response from the Town of Castle Rock was insulting. Lawyers from the town attempted to get him to sign a legal release stating that he didn't know who shot his vehicle and that he would not sue. Only after signing the release, he was told, would the town pay for his damages. That's when retained a lawyer to help get the money due him for damage to his tire.
Cardella, a retired Nevada police officer and state patrolman, added that in his more three decades of experience, he believes the Castle Rock officer's actions were reckless. Once the vehicle sped by the officer, the officer should have stopped firing because the direct threat to the officer had past, Cardella said.
He added that the officer could have instead used a shotgun in the situation – a weapon that has less range than an AR-15, noting that Daniel C. Oakes High School was also located in the line of fire, just beyond his SUV.
What frustrates Cardella is that officials did not release information on the incident to him.
"I want to know what the findings were," he said. "I wanted to be able to read the reports. I've got questions that need to be answered."
Castle Rock Police Chief Jack Cauley has refused to release records or answer any questions about the incident. In a statement, he claims an internal report found no problems with the officer's actions during the incident.
"The Castle Rock Police response during the above-referenced criminal episode, including the use of force, has been the subject of external and internal reviews and was found to be in conformance with Department policy and established law-enforcement protocols for use of force based on specific facts involved in this event," Cauley wrote in a statement to CALL7 Investigators. "Because these reports address specifics of the underlying crime and arrest for which there are pending charges in the Douglas County District Court, the reports may not be released at this time."
But Cauley refuses to explain how he came to the conclusion the shooting was justified after the vehicle was no longer a threat to the officer. The Call 7 Investigators have learned that defense lawyers already have all the detailed reports including that of a critical incident Investigation by outside police officers. So prosecutors, defense attorneys, and police all have information vital to public safety. Yet the police chief Jack Cauley insists he cannot comment.