LAKEWOOD, Colo. - The Lakewood Police officer who died early Friday was shot and killed by another officer.
Lakewood Police spokesman Steve Davis identified the deceased officer as James "Jim" Davies, 35. He would not identify the fellow officer who fired the fatal shot.
"I don't think you could have a more tragic set of circumstances. When you lose an officer to a shooting when it's a suspect that you're looking for or that you've arrested, that's heartbreaking enough. But the set of circumstances that we have here today, I don’t know of any ingredient that I could put into this story to make it more tragic than it is," Davis said.
The situation that led to the shooting began when officers looking for a reported prowler near West 20th Avenue and Eaton Street heard shots being fired and went to investigate. They found a man firing a couple of rounds into the air as he stood on the front porch of a home at 1940 Eaton St., Davis said.
More officers were sent to the home and three men were taken into custody.
Before re-entering the home to check if anyone else was inside, officers worked to secure the perimeter of the house, with several officers going to the back of the house.
Davis said that it was during that time that Davies was shot as he searched the back yard of the home.
Davis said the firing officer did issue commands, but indications are Officer Davies thought the commands were being issued to a suspect.
"The firing officer could see a silhouette or enough lighting to see someone with a gun and mistook him for an armed suspect and apparently there were some commands given, but quite frankly, everyone seems to think that Officer Davies thought the other officer was in contact with someone else and was giving commands to that person. Given the fact that Officer Davies was in uniform, he certainly didn't think the command were directed (at him)," Davis said.
Davies, who had been wearing a bulletproof vest, died at the scene. Police did not say where he was shot nor did they say how many shots were fired.
The two officers were less than 10 feet apart, but on two different sides of the fence.
Davies is survived by a wife and two children, ages 6 and 2 or 3, Davis said.
Officer Davies was a member of the Special Enforcement Team, who are often removed from routine patrol so they can focus on specific crimes such as prostitution, alcohol violations, drug activity and gang violence. His parents live in England and they're on their way to Colorado to attend his funeral.
"He was one of those people who went above and beyond. That's one of those reasons he was there last night doing what he was doing. He was a very dedicated individual, a very family oriented man," Davis said.
He added that the officer who accidentally shot Davies is very upset. He had been in the force for several years, just like Davies, who was a 6-year veteran of the Lakewood Police Department.
"You can maybe imagine the anguish that the other officer is going through right now. We feel like we have two victims on the department, to be quite frank," Davis said. "That officer is really having a difficult time with what happened last night. And I can just imagine."
He said counselors and pastors are helping Officer Davies' family and the family of the other officer.
"There's been an outpouring of support for that officer involved," Davis said.
Police radio highlights confusion
Police admit that there was a lot of confusion at the house. Initial police radio reports said that the man who was killed was a suspect and that he had been shot in the back of the house.
"That suspect is down by the privacy fence," an officer is heard saying on police radio recording at approximately 3:54 a.m. "I'm watching the body here. All the other units are clear."
Moments earlier, a female officer had radioed about Davies specifically.
"We need to find Davies. He's not answering his phone," the female officer said.
Davis said the situation was further complicated by the fact that the officers had been warned about vicious dogs in the house. On police radio recordings, officers can be heard planning to search the house by reaching through the windows.
"We did receive information about two to three pit bulls inside the house that we needed to deal with," Davis said.
The three people taken into custody prior to Davies being shot were not identified. Davis said they are being questioned but have not been arrested. It's not clear if they could also be charged in the officer's death since their alleged actions led police to the home and to the fatal shooting.
Neighbor Wakes To Chaos
Neighbor Esther Flannigan said she woke up to chaos just after 2 p.m.
Four police officers, dressed in black and armed with assault rifles came to her door. They told her and her two sons to take cover in the living room while police responded to a 'shots-fired' call next door.
The family spent two hours face down on the floor
Flannigan said she could hear her neighbor,37-year-old Joe Ruiz, arguing with officers.
"I heard him say, 'You need a search warrant to search my house. You can't come in my house,'" Flannigan recounted.
She said she couldn't hear what police asked, but she heard Ruiz reply, "I have three dogs."
Suddenly, Flannigan said, "I heard three shots fired. You could see the flash from the shots."
Flannigan said she's never had an issue with the neighbors, except for their barking dogs, which she described as aggressive.
First Lakewood officer killed
This is the first Lakewood officer killed in the line of duty since the department was founded in 1970.
"It has rocked the department," Davis said.
Davis said Lakewood Police Chief Kevin Paletta is with the officer's family at their home. The chief met with the entire department at 1p.m.
"Being the very first Lakewood police officer killed in the line of duty, it's been pretty difficult for a lot of employees, the chief included. There's probably no one there having a more difficult time than the chief. This has affected our entire department very very deeply. You can see it in his face. You can hear it in his voice ... He told the crowd that this is something he wished he never had to cover or had to have happened while he was the chief," Davis said.
"It's just like a family. This is the worst of the worst ... Shock and heartbreak does not even begin to be adequate," Davis added.
"Our thoughts and prayers to his family," Davis said. "We appreciate the outpouring of condolences and love that we are getting from the departments and the public. It means a lot."
He said police haven't gone through the entire house yet but all weapons -- mostly handguns -- have been recovered.
Detectives and investigators from Denver, Edgewater, Arvada and Jefferson County are assisting in the investigation and a special team is looking into the officer-involved shooting, as is protocol.
"Our own people are having such a difficult time, it's welcome help that we are getting from other agencies," Davis said.
Multiple streets in the area remained close on Friday afternoon.
"We will be taking a long, long time," Davis said of the investigation. "[We'll] be here for days."
He said it took some time for officers to figure out that Davies was killed by friendly fire because even though one officer did relay that he fired his weapon, they didn't know if anyone else was in the home and there was the possibility the round could have come from someplace else, considering that minutes earlier they had seen a man firing several rounds from the front of the home.
Lakewood police have not received reports of prior incidents at the home, and the only prior call of service police had to the home was an alarm call in July.
How to help:
Fund for Officer Davies' family set up at Foothills Credit Union. Call 720-962-8200 to donate.
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