DENVER – The Denver District Attorney’s Office on Wednesday released body camera video from the officer who was cleared last week in the August shooting of a 17-year-old armed car theft suspect.
District Attorney Mitch Morrissey found DPD Corporal Jeffrey Heinis should not face charges in the Aug. 16 shooting of the 17-year-old, who is referred to in the shooting review only by his initials, “LAJ.”
LAJ was driving a car he allegedly stole at gunpoint days earlier down Federal Boulevard the day he was shot. Three other people were in the car, according to Morrissey’s report. When a DPD officer pulled up behind the car, it turned and pulled into a credit union parking lot near 12th Avenue and Federal Boulevard.
Corporal Heinis was called for backup and drove to the credit union. Morrissey’s review says one of the people in the vehicle went into the credit union before Heinis arrived.
But once Heinis got there, the remaining three teens, including LAJ, got out of the car and tried to hop a fence into an alley. LAJ was carrying a gun at the time, though he never pointed it at Heinis.
“So I thought, okay, he’s bringing it for a reason,” Heinis described to investigators reviewing his shooting. “He’s not just wanting to hang on to it. There’s no reason for him to get out of the car with that gun.”
Heinis said he was concerned LAJ would get away and worried that people at several busy businesses and a bus stop nearby would be at-risk of being hurt by LAJ, according to Morrissey’s report.
“I decided to fire shots at him to stop him from doing that. I considered him a very imminent threat to everybody in the area, including myself,” Heinis told investigators.
About 14 seconds had elapsed from when Heinis arrived to the scene and when he started shooting.
LAJ was again trying to jump over the fence when Heinis fired 12 shots, hitting LAJ once near the ankle, breaking a bone.
Two of the other teens were arrested on outstanding warrants. One of them pleaded guilty to possession of a handgun by a juvenile, as two guns aside from the one LAJ was holding when he was shot were found in the stolen vehicle.
A state revised statute allows officers to use “physical force” on someone who might escape, and “physical deadly force” on someone who may escape “by use of a deadly weapon” or may use a weapon to “endanger human life or to inflict serious bodily injury to another unless apprehended without delay.”
Morrissey’s review of Heinis’ shooting determined “there was no other option available for Corporal Heinis to successfully prevent LAJ’s escape and to arrest him.”
“The only other option was for Heinis to use no physical force, to let LAJ escape, and to hope he would be apprehended later without having cause harm to anyone,” Morrissey wrote, saying that criminal charges for the officer would not be “ethically supportable under criminal law standards.”
“LAJ” was hospitalized and was charged days later with felony menacing, possession of a weapon by a previous offender and felony vehicle theft.
He pleaded guilty to the felony menacing charge on Nov. 21 and was sentenced to between one and two years in the Division of Youth Corrections. He has since turned 18, but this is his sixth sentence for being a juvenile delinquent.