Lakewood Police officer James Davies' widow sues SWAT officer, others for husband's death

LAKEWOOD, Colo. - The widow of a Lakewood police officer is suing the SWAT officer who shot and killed her husband, the City of Lakewood, the police department, the police chief and several officers.

James Davies, 35, was killed in the line of duty by another officer in November 2012, outside a home near the border of Lakewood and Edgewater. Officers were checking on a report of a loud party when they heard shots fired in another location and went to investigate, according to police spokesman Steve Davis.

Police detained three people at the home and took them in for questioning.

As police searched to ensure there were no other suspects, Davies was shot and killed by a fellow officer who, in the dark, mistook Davies for a suspect, police said.


-- Lawsuit --

Davies' widow, Tamara Davies, filed the lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of her husband's estate.

It says James Davies had worked over 18 hours on assigned and overtime shifts when he "was standing on an overturned ladder, peering over a wooden fence, into the backyard of a house located at 1940 Eaton Street, where the LPD had arrested three occupants approximately one hour earlier."

The lawsuit says Davies had been ordered by his supervisor to maintain his position in that location.

"Agent Davies stood on the ladder, alone, in full LPD uniform, believing that his fellow officers and supervisor knew that he was providing perimeter containment for the north and east sides of the house," the lawsuit says.

"Suddenly, without any prior warning, another LPD officer, Agent Devaney Braley, exited the north door of the house and began shining the bright flashlight mounted on his AR-15 rifle down the fence over which Agent Davies was observing the back yard," the lawsuit says. "Agent Davies calmly acknowledged Agent Braley’s entrance into the yard by saying 'Hey,' in a normal tone of voice. Agent Braley immediately focused his flashlight on Agent Davies and began to scream 'Police. Drop the gun.'"

The lawsuit says approximately 1.5 seconds later,  Braley fired a .223 caliber bullet through Davies’ left cheek and into the base of his brain.

Davies died.

The lawsuit calls Braley's decision to fire an "objectively unreasonable decision."

It also blames the shooting on "LPD’s inadequate, deficient, and deliberately indifferent policies, procedures, and customs" and "the grossly deficient, objectively unreasonable, and deliberately indifferent supervision of Agent Braley and command of the scene."


-- Timeline of events --

The lawsuit lists a detailed timeline of events starting at 1 p.m. when Officer Davies started his regular shift, after working four hours that morning of what the lawsuit called "extra duty hours, as approved by the LPD."

More than 12 hours later, Davies was still working, now on overtime, patrolling alone near Sloan's Lake.

"While investigating a reported loud party on Fenton Street in Edgewater, at approximately 1:50 a.m. on November 9, 2012, Agent Davies and LPD Patrol Agent Justin Mains heard gunshots," the lawsuit reads. "Eventually, numerous LPD employees congregated to the area of 20th and Eaton Street in response to the reports of gun shots."

The lawsuit explains how the Denver Police helicopter Air One was brought in at 1:55 a.m. to illuminate the area from above.

"At approximately 2:20 a.m., as Defendant [Sgt. Michelle] Current was walking south down Eaton, [suspect] Joe Ruiz stepped out the north door of his home at 1940 Eaton St., fired a handgun in the air and re-entered the residence," the lawsuit reads. "Defendant Current and the other LPD officers proceeding south on Eaton saw Mr. Ruiz fire the shots and immediately took cover."

After a call to a woman inside the house, the lawsuit says at 2:35 a.m., Ruiz and two other people inside the home came out through the front door and were taken into custody.

Officers then went into the home to search it.

The lawsuit says when officers requested two more people to help, Agent Robert Albrets, who had been with Davies, went into the house.

"This left Agent Davies alone on the north side of the house, which was contrary to established LPD and national policing standards and protocols regarding the necessity of maintaining a 'buddy system' in such situations," the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit says even though there were some 25 officers at the scene, the second officer who volunteered to go in was Current.

"In doing so, Defendant Current abandoned her exterior command position and improperly embroiled herself in the hands-on aspects of clearing the house, even though she was the 'incident commander,'" the lawsuit says. "At no time prior to entering the house did Defendant Current take a roll call of agents on location, determine the location of each law enforcement officer or create a visual or even a verbal map of the perimeter locations of officers, all contrary to accepted national and local law enforcement standards and protocols."

The lawsuit says at 2:44 a.m. Current asked on the radio, "do I still have somebody on the East backside of the house?" to which Officer Davies responded, "I'm there and I'm also watching the side door that faces to the North."

The lawsuit says Current told Davies to maintain his position.

At 3:18 a.m., SWAT agent Devaney Braley arrived at the home on Eaton Street.

The lawsuit says he was not given a briefing about the incident or the location of the perimeter officers.

About 20 minutes later, Braley and two other officers exited the home's north door.

The lawsuit says as Braley was scanning the yard, he heard a voice he believed was addressing him from his right say in a conversational tone, "Hey."

Braley said he turned toward the voice, illuminated the area with his rifle mounted flashlight and saw what he believed to be a bald Hispanic male peeking over the privacy fence to the north of the residence, the lawsuit said.

"Defendant Braley was able to see the individual’s left hand, right hand, and most of the person’s face. Defendant Braley saw a black semi-automatic pistol in the individual’s right hand," the lawsuit says.

"Defendant Braley immediately yelled words to the effect; 'Police! Drop the gun. Drop the gun.' Approximately 1.5 seconds after Defendant Braley yelled these commands, Defendant Braley fired six shots at the individual behind the fence," the lawsuit says. "The individual Defendant Braley saw behind the fence was Agent Davies."

The lawsuit said one bullet hit Davies just below his left eye, killing him. Another bullet went through the privacy fence. The remaining four shots hit the apartment building behind Davies.

The lawsuit says Davies' position was confirmed at least four times on the police radios and that Braley should have known Davies was behind the fence on the north side of the house.

"As there was no indication that there was an outstanding suspect outside the house, it was unreasonable for Defendant Braley to believe that Agent Davies was anything other than a law enforcement officer," the lawsuit says. "It is illogical to believe that an armed criminal who had escaped from the house would calmly try to alert a SWAT officer to his position by saying 'Hey.'"


-- Braley involved in previous shooting --

The lawsuit says Braley shot and killed a fleeing suspect two years before shooting Davies.

The lawsuit says the LPD did not provide Braley with "sufficient mental health treatment before returning him to the streets as a SWAT officer" and "did not conduct a sufficient fitness for duty evaluation of Defendant Braley before returning him to the streets as a SWAT officer."


-- Officers sued --

In addition to suing the city, the police department and the police chief, the lawsuit was filed against several named and unnamed officers.

The named officers are Braley, Sgt. Current and Sgt. Thomas Grady. Five other officers are being sued, but are only listed as John and Jane Does 1-5.


-- Damages sought --

The lawsuit asks for damages, medical and burial expenses, loss of earnings, litigation fees, punitive damages and more. The lawsuit says the damages suffered by the estate of James Davies, Tami Davies, and the Davies' children "likely substantially exceeds $1,000,000."


-- Lakewood Police Department statement--

7NEWS called Lakewood Police, but officials were unable to comment about the lawsuit.

"Because we are involved in the civil suit, we have to let the lawsuit follow its course through the legal system," said Lakewood Police spokesman Steve Davis.

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