Joseph Valverde had a gun. A lawsuit says that wasn’t enough to justify Denver police shooting him.

“This person wanted to give up, not only his weapon, but he wanted to surrender himself.”
3 min. read

The mother of a 30-year-old man shot and killed by Denver police during a drug sting back in 2014 has filed an excessive force lawsuit.

Joseph Valverde had a gun and was pulling it from his waistband when he was shot and killed, but he wasn't threatening officers, an attorney for the family told Channel 7. That's the crux of the lawsuit: Whether Denver police have proper training and practices when it comes to assessing how  imminent a threat is.

Channel 7 has a video — be aware, it might be upsetting — that shows the shooting.

"He pulled out the gun and instead of brandishing it or pointing it, he instead extended it out to his side and dropped it in front of the car," Raymond Bryant, the attorney representing Valverde's mother, Isabel Padilla, told the television station. "All motion connected to that weapon appears, clearly, to be intent to get rid of it. This person wanted to give up, not only his weapon, but he wanted to surrender himself."

In 2014, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey found the shooting to be justified. Law enforcement officers who reviewed the video for Channel 7 also said the officer's actions are in line with training and procedures.

But both Morrissey and Independent Monitor Nick Mitchell criticized the decision to carry out the sting operation in a busy park near a well-used bike lane in the middle of a summer day.

Valverde was killed the same day -- July 2, 2014 -- as Ryan Ronquillo, 20, who was shot in the parking lot of a funeral home. His mother, April Sanchez, has also filed an excessive force lawsuit against Denver police that similarly raises questions about the tactics used to initiate the arrest and how officers assessed the level of threat.

Unlike Valverde, Ronquillo was unarmed. Denver police were following Ronquillo as part stolen car investigation and boxed him in while he was still in his car as he attended the funeral of a friend. Ronquillo tried to escape in the car and struck the officers, injuring one. Police reportedly fired 11 shots while Ronquillo was trying to get away.

Morrissey also cleared the officers involved in Ronquillo's killing of any wrongdoing.

However, the Denver police did change their policy on shooting at moving vehicles after the deaths of Ronquillo and 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez, who was shot by police in January 2o15. Now officers can only shoot at a moving vehicle if they are being fired upon from the vehicle. If the only weapon is the vehicle itself, they should try to get out of the way.

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