Denver Police opened fire on car they believed contained manhunt suspect

Officers on Monday opened fire and killed a man inside a vehicle they believed contained Mauricio Venzor-Gonzalez.

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo
Cmdr. Barb Archer addresses the press inside Denver Police headquarters, March 22, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

denver; colorado; denverite; kevinjbeaty; denver police department; cops; law enforcement; crime; breaking stock;

Cmdr. Barb Archer addresses the press inside Denver Police headquarters, March 22, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Update, March 23: Denver police have announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Mauricio Venzor-Gonzalez. Tips can be made anonymously by calling (720) 913-7867. 

Denver Police officers on Monday opened fire and killed a man inside a vehicle they believed contained attempted murder suspect Mauricio Venzor-Gonzalez, who had escaped from Denver Sheriff’s Department custody earlier in the day, police said Thursday. 

Cmdr. Barb Archer said three officers were involved in the shooting.

“Officers were acting on information provided to them that Venzor-Gonzalez was in the passenger seat,” Archer said. “They believed that to be him. Their actions were based on that belief and based on his criminal history past of being an attempted murderer, that justifies their action.”

There’s body camera footage of the shooting, Archer said. She said it will not be released right now.

Authorities are still looking for Venzor-Gonzalez, who escaped from Denver Sheriff’s Department custody at Denver Health on Monday. She said the search is ongoing.

“He’s a very dangerous individual,” Archer said. “He’s our top priority. The community is not safe with him out there.”

Archer was asked if police believe he’s still in the area.

“We have no idea where he is,” Archer said. “If we did, we would hopefully have him in custody right now.”

The man fatally shot by police was identified by the city’s medical examiner Wednesday as Denver resident Steven Nguyen, 23. The cause of death was gunshot wounds and the manner of death is homicide. Nguyen was the car’s driver. 

The passenger, identified as Rafael Landeros, 23, was treated at a hospital following the shooting and later taken into custody on arrest warrants in Adams County. Archer said police have not had an opportunity to speak to him.

Both men were later determined to be associates of Venzor-Gonzalez. Archer did not describe how they were associated, other than they have known each other for several years.

Police said the car chase started at a home police had linked to Venzor-Gonzalez’s whereabouts. Archer said officers noticed an SUV circling the block around the home and identified the passenger as Venzor-Gonzalez. 

After attempting to pull the car over, the SUV fled at “a high rate of speed,” Archer said. Officers then engaged in a supervisor-approved pursuit, following the car until it came to a stop near East 41st Avenue and North Albion Street. There, officers gave orders to the car’s occupants. After the orders were ignored, Archer said officers could see the two people inside were looking for something.

“Officers knew that Venzor-Gonzalez had been arrested in November for attempting to kill a police officer,” Archer said. “They believed that the actions being made inside the car were efforts to locate a weapon. So fearing for their safety, the officers fired.”

The car moved after the officer’s gunfire. It stopped near an embankment by an open field. Officers once again ordered the occupants to comply with orders and noticed they continued looking for something inside the car.  This prompted another round of gunfire from police, which then allowed police to approach the car and remove the driver and passenger from the car. Both were taken the hospital, where Nguyen died from injuries.

Archer said initially the car was not moving when officers fired upon it, but later clarified the car was moving when it went down the embankment.

A loaded handgun was found inside the car afterward, and Archer said the car was stolen. She added that she doesn’t believe the officers were fired upon, though police are still determining the course of events.

The three involved officers are District 2 patrol officers and have been placed on offline assignment, which Archer said means they’re not working in a patrol car and conducting other duties. Their experience ranges from two years to 10 years with Denver Police. Archer didn’t say how many rounds were fired.