Littleton police chief Doug Stephens told his officers in an email he is proud of the work they do, one day after a Denver7 investigation raised questions about the department’s response to domestic violence calls before a murder-suicide.
“For those of you who saw the story last night on Channel 7 I just wanted to let you all know that I am proud of the work you do every day,” Stephens wrote in an internal email obtained by Denver7 Investigates.
The internal email obtained exclusively by Denver7 Investigates was confirmed for accuracy by chief Stephens.
“Your predecessors, and now you, have earned that respect and trust through tens of thousands of positive interactions and selfless sacrifices you have made in seeking to help others. No negative news story during ‘sweeps week’ can change that,” Stephens went on to write.
Denver7’s investigation revealed police responded to David Fallon and Christa Benton’s apartment in the early morning hours of Jan. 6, 2016, after Benton’s teenage son called 911 asking for an ambulance. The son told dispatchers his mother was “screaming about her neck” after a physical fight with her boyfriend. Police left without arresting Fallon. Twelve hours later, police said Fallon murdered Benton and killed himself.
Denver7’s investigation also revealed that one of the responding officers to the early morning call wrote a one-sentence report reading simply: "Allegations of physical contact but no evidence." That report grew to two pages after the murder-suicide and Denver7 has confirmed the change was on the police chief’s orders. City officials did not turn over the original one-sentence report in response to a Denver7 public records request.
14-year-old son tells his story
Chief Stephens has refused repeated requests to do an interview with Denver7 about the case. But Benton and Fallon’s 14-year-old son asked to do an on-camera interview after watching Denver7’s investigation.
“I just wanted the police department to hear me, and I kinda wanted them to get a standpoint of my view of it .... I'm 14 and I just lost both of my parents and that could've been prevented from them arresting him,” Jonathan Fallon said.
Jonathan was in the apartment when his older brother called 911 the night of Jan. 6. His parents’ arguing woke him up.
“You could hear him walk into my kitchen and I heard him grab my mom and swing her down …
She was saying ‘My neck, my neck, my neck,’” Jonathan remembers.
“Did you tell that to police that night?” asked Denver7 chief investigative reporter Tony Kovaleski.
“Yeah, I did. And I even told them he's hit her before, I know that for a fact. He pulled her by her hair. You've gotta take him. You've gotta take him,” Jonathan said.
Contrary to Jonathan’s version of that night, the Littleton police report says in part, “with no physical evidence and the boys not seeing or hearing anything I didn’t have enough probable cause to arrest David.”
District Attorney responds
District attorney George Brauchler reviewed both police reports from the Jan. 6 disturbance after watching Denver7’s investigation. He said he can’t second-guess the officers’ decision to leave without making an arrest.
“In the reports that I read, I think this would have, had they arrested someone and charged them in this case, I think this would have been extremely difficult, extremely unlikely to get a conviction for us,” Brauchler said.
Brauchler argued domestic disturbance calls that lack obvious physical injuries and eyewitnesses are some of the most difficult cases law enforcement handles every day.
“My greater concern with stories like this: let's get to the bottom of what happened. Let's try to figure out if there are things that we need to do differently, whether they're procedural with the department or new laws,” said the district attorney.
Prior calls for help
Jonathan Fallon said the day his parents died wasn’t the first time he felt cries for help for his mom went unanswered. In April of 2015, records show Jonathan called police because his parents were arguing and it might have been physical. He told a dispatcher his mom had bruises.
“I called the cops and I was crying and I was telling them, 'please get here, my dad's hitting my mom, I'm hearing him like hit her and everything,'” Jonathan said. “I think he smashed her through the living room table.”
The subsequent police report said Fallon told officers it was Benton who flipped the living room table. According to the report, Benton said her boyfriend flipped the table “causing the edge of it to strike Benton in the small of her back. Benton said the contact between the table and her back was incidental and not the result of Fallon trying to hit her.” No one was arrested.
That incident was one of at least five prior to the day of the murder-suicide where police documented reports of domestic trouble between Benton and Fallon. Fallon was never arrested for abusing Benton.
In his internal email to his staff, chief Doug Stephens did not mention any of the incidents involving the couple or whether any lessons were learned from their deaths in his email to the Littleton Police Department after the investigation aired.
“Stay positive and go out there and do what you do. Our community stands with you and understands the difficult situations you must deal with on a daily basis. They, like I, know that you do all you can to protect our community, but all-to-often [sic] things occur which are beyond our control,” Stephens wrote.
Denver7 shared Stephens’ email with Benton’s mother, Gayle Villegas.
“He's just saying what a good job they were doing. They did a good job? Then why's my daughter dead right now?” Villegas said.
“He should've talked to them and said we need to do this right. We need to fix this,” Jonathan Fallon said.
The day after the investigation aired, officials from the Littleton Police Department called and left business cards with several family members and friends of Christa Benton’s. The family said the department had never reached out to discuss decisions made by officers the day of the murder-suicide before the Denver7 story aired.
Update: on May 23, Littleton's director of communications and marketing, Kelli Narde, sent Denver7 Investigates the following statement after Denver7 requested to interview the city's mayor and city council about the Christa Benton case.
On January 6, Littleton Police were called to 5537 South Grant Street by the 18-year-old son of Christa Benton on a domestic violence call. Responding officers spent over 25 minutes interviewing everyone in the apartment but found no evidence or witnesses to establish probable cause that a crime occurred. Christa was offered medical attention but declined. Twelve hours later she was murdered by her boyfriend, David Fallon, who then killed himself.
“Christa’s death is a tragedy for her family and the entire Littleton community,” said Mayor Bruce Beckman. “
“Unfortunately, we can’t always prevent terrible things from happening and our hearts go out to Christa’s children and her mother,” said Littleton Police Chief Doug Stephens. “ The police department follows up after every single domestic violence call, even when there is no probable cause that a crime occurred. We provide proactive outreach on each case and referrals to services that could improve family dynamics. Our Victim’s Advocate attempted to work with Christa following previous domestic violence calls and with her family after her death ,” Stephens said.
Christa’s mother delivered a notice of her intent to sue the City of Littleton on May 18.
A GoFundMe account has been established to help Christa Benton's sons. Click here for information on how to donate.
Tony Kovaleski is the award-winning chief investigative reporter for Denver7 Investigates. Connect with Tony on Facebook, on Twitter, or by email to Tony@TheDenverChannel.com. If you have a story idea or a tip for our investigative team, email Denver7 Investigates or call our tip line at (303) 832-0285. You can remain anonymous.