LITTLETON, Colo — Littleton police have launched an internal investigation after Denver7 uncovered an officer’s failure to file an arrest warrant against a man accused of threatening to kill his wife. This discovery comes in the wake of a series of Denver7 investigations into the same officer’s response to a domestic violence call 12 hours before a murder-suicide in January.
Littleton Police Chief Doug Stephens said his department is investigating Corporal Andrew Schmit’s handling of a November domestic violence case. Police records show Schmit responded to the victim’s home twice in one day: once around 2 a.m. and a second time about two hours later. Each time, the victim told police her estranged husband had mental issues and was trying to break into her house. Denver7 is withholding the victim's name and the name of the suspect because the victim fears for her safety.
Corroborating the victim's story, a neighbor reported seeing the suspect punch out a window at the woman’s home. On each call, the suspect was gone before police arrived.
In the report, Cpl. Schmit said he wrote a citation and left a voicemail with the suspect urging him to turn himself in or “a warrant would be sought.” Schmit wrote that if the suspect did not return, “I will follow up.”
Later the same day, police received a call from a Veteran’s Affairs caseworker who received a voicemail from the suspect saying he believed his wife was cheating and “I’m killing both of them.” Another officer wrote that she forwarded the voicemail to Schmit for further investigation.
The case apparently went without any follow-up for nine months, until Denver7 Investigates discovered the report and asked whether police ever filed an arrest warrant.
“It appears that we made a mistake,” Stephens told Denver7 Investigates. “There's a very good possibility that we didn't get the paperwork processed according to our policies and procedures.”
Stephens said the department has launched an internal investigation to determine what exactly happened with the case. The department has also moved forward in the process of asking the court for an arrest warrant in the case, in response to Denver7’s questions.
“What we do is important. We've got to get it right. We have to get it right every time. When we make mistakes like this, it's not O.K. We need to remedy those mistakes and prevent them from occurring again,” Stephens said.
Denver7 Investigates discovered the case while reviewing domestic violence reports following investigations into the murder of Littleton mother Christa Benton.
Police say Benton’s boyfriend David Fallon shot her then turned the gun on himself in their Littleton apartment in January. Denver7’s investigations revealed Corporal Schmit and another officer responded to that apartment 12 hours before the murder-suicide in response to a 911 call placed by Benton’s son, Tyler Jewkes.
Jewkes told dispatchers his mother was “screaming about her neck” after being injured during a physical fight with her boyfriend.
Littleton police records show police spent less than 30 minutes investigating the call, then left without arresting Fallon. Corporal Schmit wrote a one-sentence report about the call. Denver7 Investigates learned police deleted that report after the murder-suicide, replacing it with a much more detailed report.
Chief Stephens stood behind Schmit’s decision not to arrest Fallon before the murder-suicide and said his internal investigation does not involve the Benton case. Stephens also said Schmit would not be on administrative leave and would continue to work as normal during the internal investigation.
But Littleton police said they implemented a number of changes in the aftermath of Denver7’s investigations, including:
Requiring 10 hours of domestic violence investigation training for all department personnel.
Requiring detailed reports of all domestic violence calls, including those without probable cause for arrest.
Implementing a process for supervisors to ensure necessary follow-up is taken after reports are filed.
Littleton's city council also terminated the city manager, Michael Penny, in June, citing in part the city's handling of to Denver7's requests for interviews and records while investigating the Christa Benton case.
Also in response to Denver7’s investigations, Littleton’s city council scheduled a study session for Aug. 9 to discuss domestic violence education. The police chief gave a presentation and answered questions from the council.
UPDATE: On Sep. 11, Littleton police chief Doug Stephens released the following statement at the conclusion of his department's internal investigation:
"The internal investigation into our officer's actions on the November 24, 2015 domestic violence investigation is complete. Corporal Andrew Schmit was found to be in violation of department policy. Corporal Schmit has accepted a penalty of 20 hours suspension without pay and has indicated he accepts responsibility and will not appeal the findings or penalty imposed. In addition, a command review of supervisor responsibilities in this incident has led to a modification of department practices concerning tracking of follow-up investigations by personnel assigned to the Patrol Division."
Stephens noted that his department does not usually publicly release disciplinary actions upon officers but in this case Schmit authorized the release of his imposed penalty.