Denver police officer who shot and killed Christopher Barela in July was justified, district attorney says

Barela was armed and tested positive for methamphetamine. Denver police officers have shot at least nine people in the city this year.

RTD Officer Torres and Barela face off on Lincoln Street. (Courtesy, Denver District Attorney's Office)

RTD Officer Torres and Barela face off on Lincoln Street. (Courtesy, Denver District Attorney's Office)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said a Denver police officer acted lawfully and in self-defense when he fatally shot an armed man on Lincoln Street in July.

The decision letter from McCann’s office on Wednesday said Corporal Scott Mattos would not face charges for fatally shooting Christopher Barela on July 1 in the 1000 block of Lincoln Street. Barela had previously been approached by an armed RTD officer, who drew his gun against Barela after he showed a handgun.

Mattos believed he and other officers were in danger and that Barela posed a threat to the public on what is usually a busy street, according to the report.

Denver police officers have shot at least nine people this year, according to media reports and DA decision letters. Six were fatal and at least two cases were ruled justified, including Barela’s.

Mattos fired his handgun three times after Barela pointed his gun at officers, according to Denver Crime Lab results. Two bullets struck Barela, who posthumously tested positive for methamphetamine.

The incident began after Barela boarded an RTD bus at 6:25 a.m. and caused a disturbance, leading him to be kicked off the bus, the report states. Barela was then approached by an RTD officer who drew his handgun after Barela reached into a bag. Barela took out a handgun, leading to a faceoff documented in the report; a photograph shows both men aiming guns at one another. The report said the RTD officer did not fire because he thought Barela’s gun may have been a BB gun.

An off-duty uniformed Denver police detective, Malik Gatling, witnessed the scene while driving. He dialed 911 to report the incident and followed Barela as he walked down Lincoln Street. When Barela approached 9th Avenue, he fired his gun into the air; he was also seen swinging the gun around Lincoln Street. An image from the report shows Barela in the middle of Lincoln Street, pointing a gun toward oncoming traffic.

Mattos was on duty with a new recruit officer when he responded to the scene. He saw the handgun in Barela’s hand and noticed there were other cops there he believed were without cover.

As he approached Barela, Mattos ordered him to put down his gun. Barela fumbled with the gun due to what the officer believed was a malfunction. Barela then fired a shot in the air before lowering the gun and pointing it at Mattos and the other officer. Mattos responded by firing twice.

Barela was on the ground but still had the gun nearby. The report said from Mattos’s vantage point, it looked like Barela was reaching for his gun while on the ground. It prompted Mattos to shoot again.

A handgun was recovered next to Barela. Police confirmed he fired at least one round, though a live round was also found on the scene.

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