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Girl: Cops called dad back to party before shooting

Witness accounts differ from Denver police

Published May 19, 2008 at 9 p.m.
Updated May 20, 2008 at 6:37 a.m.

Detective Tyrone Campbell searches a yard with a metal detector, while Detective Ron Gabel measures a possible bullet hole. Detective Dan Wiley holds a camera.

Detective Tyrone Campbell searches a yard with a metal detector, while Detective Ron Gabel measures a possible bullet hole. Detective Dan Wiley holds a camera.

The daughter of a Montbello man who was killed in a weekend confrontation with police said Monday that her father died after officers called him on his cell phone and asked him to return to a first communion party.

"They called him back here," Carolina Valencia said. "Why? So they could kill him in front of us instead of doing their jobs?"

Odiceo Valencia was killed Saturday night when he failed to heed officers' orders to drop a knife he was wielding during the family gathering. Police said he lunged toward them, even after he was hit with a Taser and pepper balls.

Witnesses say the police commands were in English. Valencia's English was so poor that English-speaking neighbors in Montbello said they barely could understand him. He needed a translator to handle court documents from a previous case filed against him.

Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson questioned whether a Spanish-speaking officer would have made a difference.

Jackson said he did not know whether any of the officers on the scene speak Spanish, but "we don't know at this time if that would have helped the situation."

"We do know there are certain things physically you understand, such as the use of the Taser, as well as the pepper ball," he said. "There are basic words most people understand in this country, 'stop,' 'drop it' and 'don't.'"

Jackson said the department encourages officers to learn various languages, but in the heat of the moment, there isn't time to sort out language issues.

Family called police

About 6 p.m. Saturday, a despondent Valencia made a deep gash in his arm at the home of his wife, Altagracia Medina, and his three children during a first Holy Communion gathering for his youngest daughter, Graciela, 8.

He later dropped the knife and left the gathering.

His son, Jesse, 14, called police, knowing that his father, who was diabetic, was losing blood. Four police officers went to the Valencia home in the 5500 block of North Dillon Way.

Valencia's daughter, Carolina, 16, said police called Valencia on his cell phone asking him to return.

When Valencia returned about 6:30 p.m., police and family members say, he had an even larger knife. Within minutes, his body lay slumped by a tree and police swarmed the area.

The Denver County coroner's office said Monday that the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen. Police say they did everything in their training to avoid a lethal confrontation, including talking to him and giving him space. Only then did they fire a Taser and use pepper balls.

"I think officers took every measure they could," Jackson said. "These officers retreated away. They were not the aggressors."

Official review under way

Family members and three other witnesses who live across the street and refused police orders to go inside said officers fired on Valencia after he had dropped the knife when stung with the Taser.

They said he did not lunge at officers.

"How could he have lunged at them when he could barely stand up straight?" Carolina said, noting that he had lost a substantial amount of blood.

Police spokeswoman and Detective Sharon Hahn said witnesses often see things differently.

"This situation could have turned out totally different," Hahn said. "(The family) is always going to question everything that we do."

The various accounts of the shooting will be reviewed by the Denver district attorney and the Office of the Independent Monitor.

Richard Rosenthal, the independent monitor who investigates and reports on all Denver officer- involved shootings, said his office has been involved from the start. "We were monitoring homicide interviews until the next morning," Rosenthal said.

He said the first phase of the investigation is being handled by Denver homicide detectives working under the district attorney. Rosenthal said the investigation should take two or three weeks.

If no charges are filed, the administrative review then begins. Rosenthal said he will have the opportunity to conduct additional investigations. His report will be forwarded to the use-of-force board, police Chief Gerry Whitman and Manager of Public Safety Al LaCabe. LaCabe is expected to issue a public report within six months, Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal acknowledged that it's rare for officers to face criminal charges in on-duty shootings.

The only case he could recall was that of former Denver police officer Joseph Bini, who was charged in 2000 with felony perjury for writing a faulty no-knock warrant that led to the Sept. 29, 1999, police raid and killing of 45-year-old Ismael Mena.

Bini pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, served a three-month suspension, and got his police job back.

From celebration to tragedy

The joy of a family gathering for a child's first communion turned to horror in a few hours Saturday:

* 1 p.m.: Family members, including Odiceo Valencia, the child's father, attend first communion Mass at Montbello Catholic Parish Church of the Ascension. Valencia is separated from his wife and barred by a restraining order from going to the family home for a party.

* 5 p.m.: Carolina Valencia, 16, tells her distraught father that he can come join the gathering at the family's Montbello home, despite the order.

* 6 p.m.: Jesse Valencia, 14, calls 911 to ask police to help find his father, who has slashed his arm with a knife at the family's home then left in a vehicle.

* 6:28 p.m.: Police fire weapons at Odiceo Valencia, who has returned to the home. Police say he refused to drop a large knife.

Less-lethal weapons

The Denver Police Department has three main weapons in their less-lethal arsenal.

* Advanced Taser M-26 ERD (Electronic Restraint Device) The laser-sighted 26-watt device shoots two probes into a person up to 21 feet away and uses new technology to mimic the body's neurological signals, causing a person's skeletal muscles to contract and lock up.

* Pepper ball system: An air-powered device and launches plastic spheres filled with powdered or liquid solution of oleoresin capsicum. They burst on impact and release the pepper solution.

* Less lethal shotgun: The DPD also deploys an 18-gauge shotgun firing a beanbag projectile, designed to subdue suspects by delivering a heavy blow.

* Training: The department manual mandates that officers must attend and pass a training course, an annual in-service course and periodic qualification in less-lethal procedures and weapons.

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