Chief: Police Officer Kills Wrong Man

'Silver Object' Turns Out To Be Soda Can

Denver's police chief Gerry Whitman admitted Monday afternoon that a police officer shot and killed the wrong man after he allegedly pointed a "silver object" at the officer -- an object that turned out to be a soda can.

A policeman cordones off a section of a building as investigators look into an officer-involved shooting.

The Denver officer was responding to a domestic violence call at the South Lincoln Housing Project Sunday evening after Kathy Sandoval reported that her boyfriend, Vincent Martinez, who had assaulted her earlier in the evening, was back in their home.

"According to Ms. Sandoval, Martinez had been holding her against her will for 17 hours, during which time he repeatedly assaulted her and would not let her leave the home," Whitman said.

When Martinez fell asleep, Sandoval apparently left the apartment and called police, Whitman said.

When officers arrived at the complex, at 1234 West 10th Ave., they could not get inside and no one was responding to knocks on the door. Officers called in the fire department to help and using a fire department ladder, officers climbed in through an open second-story window in the back of the apartment. They opened a closed bedroom door and in the darkness, saw a man inside hold up a silver object.

"According to officers involved in the shooting, when the door was opened, the man in bed, inside the room, moved suddenly while displaying what the officer believed to be a firearm in his hand. In response to the movement, the officer fired one shot, hitting the victim," Whitman said.

The 63-year-old man was shot once in the left chest. The officers then heard a clink on the floor and learned that the "silver object" the man was holding was not a weapon but a can of soda, Whitman said.

The man was transported to Denver Health Medical Center where he died as a result of his injuries. The Rocky Mountain News identified the victim as Frank Lobato. Police say he was sharing the home with Sandoval and her boyfriend.

Vincent Martinez broke his legs after jumping out of a second-story window.

Martinez, 42, remains at large. He is wanted for investigation of false imprisonment, third-degree assault and domestic violence. Police are asking for the public's help to find Martinez, who is described as 5 feet tall and approximately 200 pounds.

The officer-involved shooting occurred about one hour after the initial 911 call. Neighbors say Martinez had jumped out the back window and fled when officers arrived at the scene.

The officer who fired his weapon -- identified as Ranjan Ford Jr. -- and two others involved have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation. Ford has been with the police department since 2001.

Whitman would not say if the officers had a warrant to enter the home.

Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter said he will review the police investigation and determine if charges should be filed, if a grand jury should look at the case, or if Ford should be cleared. Ritter said the process could take a few weeks if not longer.

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper issued the following statement concerning the shooting:

"This situation involves two tragedies: a brutal case of domestic violence and a loss of life. For the past year, (Denver) has focused on training and equipment to reduce risks to both civilians and police officers; that focus will continue. In the meantime, we commend the police chief’s openness, honesty and prompt release of the facts of this incident as we await the results of the District Attorney’s investigation. We will continue to invest resources in the training and equipment necessary to uphold the public’s safety and that of our officers."

There have been four officer-involved shootings in Denver in the past year. Three have been fatal.

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