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SWAT officer shot by friendly fire, not fugitive

Posted at 9:42 AM, May 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-07 01:03:12-04

The fugitive shot and killed by police near Sloan's Lake in Denver last December did not shoot a SWAT officer.

The Denver District Attorney's Office released a review letter on the shooting Friday that said Technician John Ruddy was shot by a fellow officer at the same time the fugitive, Phillip Munoz, was shot and killed.

"It's not only devastating to the officer involved, it's also devastating to the police department," said Cmdr. Patrick Phelan of the Denver Police Department's Special Operations Unit. "It was a dynamic situation."

Munoz was wanted for allegedly shooting his girlfriend on the evening of Nov. 6.

The bulletin for his arrest said his criminal history included weapons violations, aggravated assault, attempted homicide, burglary, narcotics, child abuse, assault, kidnapping, domestic violence and other charges. It also said, "Armed and dangerous. Always armed according to CI [confidential informant]."

December 2 events

"On December 2, 2015, investigators got a break -- Munoz was supposed to be visiting his father at an assisted-living high-rise apartment building," the shooting-review letter from the D.A. to the Denver chief of police said.

Officers monitored security cameras in the building and said they saw Munoz, his dad and a female leave the apartment, take an elevator and then leave through the building's front door.

Multiple officers reported that Munoz appeared to be wearing a Denver sheriff's uniform shirt and that he had a gun on his hip.

When the trio got in a silver Dodge Charger, "SWAT and metro K-9 officers immediately began moving in to apprehend Munoz."

Munoz tried to drive off. When he encountered police on Newton Street, he went into an alley and was rammed by cops there. The letter says Munoz managed to drive backwards, cross Meade Street and crashed into a garage where four SWAT vehicles pinned in the Charger.

"Thus began a stand-off which would last for almost 20 minutes," the letter said.

"The suspect was dedicated to escaping," Phelan said. "He didn't care who he hurt."

Officers and dogs moved in and Munoz's father and the woman got out of the vehicle and were taken into custody, officials said. "After the passengers were removed from the Charger, the officers continued efforts to get Munoz to surrender."

The suspect's father, Steve Munoz, told police that when his son was speeding down the street trying to get away, he yelled at him, "What are you doing? Just stop."

The elder Munoz added that his son replied, "I ain't stopping for nobody.  We'll all die... I will never go back to prison.  They'll have to kill me."

After crashing into the garage, police pinned in Munoz' Dodge Charger.  They say he continued trying to escape by revving the engine and attempting to back up or lurch forward.

Officers said they shot "less than lethal 40mm impact sponge rounds" and a "noise flash diversionary device" to "get the suspect to stop trying to use the vehicle to escape," the letter said.

The rounds were also used to break the "heavily tinted windows that [were] preventing officers from seeing inside the vehicle."

It didn't work.

Officers said they began throwing bricks and pieces of paving stones to break the windows.

MORE | Munoz' estranged wife calls him abusive

During this time, officers smelled gas and realized there was a gas leak. When the Charger started to smoke, some officers moved their position because they were "concerned about the risk of fire or explosion."

Police said Munoz crawled out of the Charger with a gun to his temple.

Officers said they repeated yelled at Munoz to drop the gun, then fired the 40mm rounds at him, hitting him in the leg and buttocks. They said one round hit Munoz's hand, he dropped the gun, but picked it back up.

Munoz managed to escape and jump a fence with the gun in his mouth, according to the letter.

As Munoz approached a second fence, Technician James Bradley said, "Now I see gun and my brain registers gun and I think I yell, 'gun.' And it looks like to me like he could, you know, he could either spin in my direction, this way, and, or, he could come back around to me."

The officer went on to say, "And right when I'm thinking he could just turn this way to me, it seem [sic] like he does one of these [demonstrating] like this and, fearing for my life, I just, I fire. I believe I fired three rounds, to the best of my knowledge."

The letter says Munoz fell to the ground and Bradley then heard a cry across the yard.

"He looked up and saw Technician Ruddy fall to the ground," the letter said.

When interviewed later, Ruddy said when he took his position, he did not know there were officers north and west of him.

"Unfortunately, he got a little ahead of (the suspect) and got himself into the crossfire," Phelan told Denver7. "We're still tactically reviewing that... he kind of broke a plane which he knew he shouldn't have done.  He was exposed and it happened that fast."

After Ruddy was shot, other SWAT officers "dragged him away and began to administer aid," the letter said.

The gun recovered near Munoz's body was not loaded and police found no spent cartridges near him, according to the letter. He did have ammo in his pocket, police said.

The autopsy report found Munoz had a blood-alcohol level of 0.96 and he tested positive for amphetamine and methamphetamine.

After the review, the District Attorney's Office said it determined Bradley, and a second officer, were legally justified for using deadly force against Munoz.

"Technician Bradley's decision to fire to defend himself from what he believed to be the imminent use of unlawful force against him was objectively reasonable," the DA said.

The DA also ruled no charges were appropriate in the shooting of Ruddy.

Read the letter.

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