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Officer Petkoff exonerated

District Attorney Frank Ruybalid submitted his final report on the Armando Gallegos shooting this week. Excerpts from it are reprinted here.

    “I have reviewed reports from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and Walsenburg Police Department  regarding the officer-involved shooting which took place at 45 Stacy Dr. in the City of Walsenburg on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010.  In this incident, a suspect, Armando D. Gallegos, DOB 3/16/1981, in a domestic violence episode died as a result of gunshot wounds inflicted by WPD Officer Kiel Petkoff.  The available reports read that Ofc. Petkoff interceded in an altercation between Gallegos and his domestic partner, Darlene M. Anderson, and fired his service weapon at Gallegos when Petkoff saw Gallegos approaching Ms. Anderson with a knife in an apparent effort to kill or cause serious harm to her.  My review compels the conclusion that Ofc. Petkoff was justified in the use of force which resulted in Mr. Gallegos’ death, and that a lesser degree of force was not immediately available to the officer at the moment.

    Walsenburg Police Department reports, as supported by the audio recording of the incoming 911 call, reflect that Ofc. Kiel Petkoff and Ofc. John Salazar were dispatched to a residence on Stacy Drive because a male party was threatening his girlfriend with a knife.  This report and subsequent dispatch reasonably place Ofc. Petkoff and Salazar on alert that they would encounter a domestic violence situation involving a deadly weapon.

    At a residential duplex situated at 44 and 45 Stacy Dr., Ofc. Petkoff went first to the front, then to the rear, and Salazar, who arrived shortly after Petkoff, proceeded to the front of the unit at 45 Stacy Dr.  Ofc. Petkoff reported that he observed an adult male and an adult female arguing, which he could observe through the back dining room window.  Petkoff reported that he also observed two young girls seated on a couch in the living room, visible through the rear window.  Petkoff attempted to make entry through the back door, but the door was locked.

    Petkoff continued to observe the action, the detail of which is omitted here for brevity, but after a few moments observed the male retrieving a knife from a kitchen drawer.  Petkoff described the knife as having a black handle and a silver metal blade, approximately 8 to 9 inches long-not a butcher knife, but a thinner kitchen knife.  When the suspect did this, the two girls in the living room ran to a location out of Petkoff’s view.  Petkoff then observed the male punch the female in the face.  The female, who had been seated in the chair, fell to the floor, but got back up and sat on the chair again. Petkoff said he then observed the male raise the knife to the level of his head and with the blade pointing toward the female.  Petkoff said he perceived this as an “overt threat of intent to stab someone,” believing that if the male completed the stabbing motion, he would have struck the female in the neck, causing death or serous bodily injury.  At this time Petkoff fired two shots from his .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun.  Petkoff reported that he then yelled, “Drop the knife!,” at which time the male party threw the knife underhand toward the window through which Petkoff fired.  Petkoff reported that the male party then jumped behind a love seat in the living room.

    Ofc. Salazar then proceeded to the rear of the residence, where he and Petkoff commanded the female to unlock the back door so they could enter.  The officers administered aid to the wounded male, who subsequently was transported away from the scene by emergency medical responders.  The male, later identified as Armando D. Gallegos, subsequently died of the injuries.  Dr. Robert Bux, a medical examiner with the El Paso County Coroner’s Office, reported that Gallegos suffered two bullet wounds both to the front abdominal area.  Bux recovered one projectile from Gallegos’ body.  He observed a single exit wound, compelling the conclusion that one bullet had passed through Gallegos’ torso and remained at the scene.

    Although Ofc. Salazar could not observe the shooting (he was at the front of the house when the shooting occurred), Ofc. Salazar’s limited observations, and the sequence in which he made them, support that Petkoff, and occupants of the residence, were reacting to a potentially deadly situation.  Salazar reported that when he arrived at 45 Stacy Dr., Petkoff had already made his way to the rear of the residence, as blinds or curtains blocked the view of the interior of the residence from the front.  As Salazar moved closer to the front door of the residence, a young girl who appeared to be about 10 years old came to an open front bedroom window and drew the officer’s attention.  Salazar then helped the girl and another young girl, who also appeared about 10 years old, to climb out through the bedroom window.  Shortly after the second female cleared the window, Salazar reports that he heard Petkoff yell, “Knife!” and he heard two gun shots.  Salazar guarded the girls briefly, then told them to run across the street and hide behind a car, after which he made his way to the rear of the residence.

    CBI agents subsequently interviewed Eyvonne D. Bernal, Petkoff’s girlfriend, who had accompanied Petkoff in an approved ride-along the night of April 4.  Bernal remained in Petkoff’s patrol vehicle, which was parked alongside the neighbor’s house to which the girls ran.  Bernal reported that both girls were crying and one of the neighbors asked, “What happened?,” to which one of the girls responded, “Daddy was trying to kill Mommy.”

    Agents Pat Crouch and Jodi Wright interviewed Darlene Anderson at about 1:15 am the morning after the shooting.  Anderson said that she and Gallegos had prepared a dinner for themselves and several guests for Easter, and the afternoon and evening were uneventful until Tanya Serrato, who is Gallegos’ cousin, walked over from across the street and told Gallegos that Anderson had been unfaithful to him having an intimate involvement with her brother, Thomas Serrato.  Anderson said that after Serrato’s visit, all Gallegos would talk about for the rest of the night was how she had slept with his cousin.  After Anderson’s parents left, Gallegos started calling her profane names, to which Anderson replied that Gallegos was acting like a “fool,” that he was drunk and that he should go to bed or leave.  (Crouch and Wright interviewed Tanya Serrato a few days later.  Ms. Serrato, apparently one of the females Benjamin Marks referenced who came over from across the street, acknowledged that she had come to Anderson’s house that evening, but she denied that she had told Gallegos Anderson was cheating on him.  Instead she said that Gallegos told her (Serrato) that Anderson was cheating on him.)

    After a friend, Jim Sharpe, left, sometime after dark, and Gallegos, Anderson and Marks were the only adults who remained, Gallegos started throwing things around the house.  Anderson said she wanted to leave the house with the children, but she could not find her 12 year old son– unknown to her, her son had left the house to walk, to Anderson’s parents’ house- and when she couldn’t find him, she stayed.  When Gallegos stepped out of the house for a short time, she locked him out, but he climbed back into the house through an open window, there they started yelling at each other, with Gallegos throwing more household items to the floor.  Anderson said she grabbed Gallegos by his hair and tried pulling him out the front door, Gallegos pushed Anderson into a closet.  She reported that Gallegos pushed her into the kitchen table, when she heard a “cracking” sound, Gallegos dropped to the floor behind the couch and said, “They shot me!” Upon further questioning by Wright and Crouch, Anderson acknowledged that Gallegos punched her in the face and that she sat down at the kitchen table because she thought he was going to hit her again. She said she did not see Gallegos holding a knife, and claimed, “I know that my husband would not come after me with a knife.”  She also acknowledged that before the night of April 4, she had never seen Gallegos that angry, Gallegos had never punched her, and they had never had a fight like that. She speculated that Gallegos had some kind of “psychotic snap.”

    Several persons involved in the events that day describe Gallegos as having drunk an extreme quantity of liquor.  Anderson acknowledged that Gallegos drank most of a 12 pack of Corona beer by himself, she had made him at least two bloody marys, and that Gallegos and his friends (apparently Jim Sharpe and Benjamin Marks) had “finished off” a bottle of rum, a bottle of vodka, and another 12 pack of Corona beer.  Anderson said Gallegos had not drunk any hard liquor, but had drunk only beer, until Serrato came from across the street to tell him about her affair with Serrato’s brother.  She said both the vodka and rum were new bottles when they started drinking from them, and that they finished both bottles.

    In the CBI agents’ interview with Benjamin Marks, Marks said that from the time he arrived there, at about 7 pm until the time he left, Gallegos drank three or four shots of whiskey and several beers.  At one time during the evening Gallegos commented to Marks that he was starting on his third 12 pack of beer, and Marks said it was apparent to him that Gallegos was intoxicated.

    Police, CBI agents, and emergency responders all commented on the state of disarray at the house, and that various household objects had been thrown on the floor.

    It is necessary to address the issue whether Ofc. Petkoff used a reasonable amount of force under the circumstances, and whether a lesser degree of force could have been employed by police to satisfactorily take control of the incident, and prevent harm or death to anybody involved.  An investigation of the scene, as supported by photographs taken the night of the incident, shows that there is only one means of ingress and egress to the living unit from the rear of the residence.  It is through a screened, storm door, then through a solid door, immediately to the right of a set of three window panes which look directly into the dining room area.  Petkoff reported that he attempted to enter through the back door, by first opening the screen door, however he found the solid door to be locked.  Ofc. Salazar reported that when he walked to the back of the residence, he and/or Petkoff had to demand of the female (Anderson) to unlock the back door to let them in.

    As Petkoff fired the two shots through the dining room window, he was watching the action through a two to three inch gap between the bottom of a shade and the frame of the dining room window.  He was holding the muzzle of his service firearm approximately one inch from the window pane.  He reported, as did other witnesses, that the second shot was fired within about one second of the first.  At the time Petkoff fired the rounds, Gallegos was approaching Anderson, who was seated in a chair, and raising the knife with the blade pointed down, as if to embed the blade in Anderson.  Petkoff reported that if he had not fired his weapon, Gallegos “would have buried that knife in her neck.”

    To conclude, the undersigned public official further finds that the investigation into this shooting appears to have been undertaken diligently and in good faith.  The CBI and WPD adequately collected, photographed and documented all the available physical evidence, and interviewed and recorded the interviews of all necessary witnessed, and an appropriated number of ancillary witnesses, to the event which took place at 45 Stacy Dr., Walsenburg, Co, April 4, 2010.  I am confident that further investigation  would not disclose any substantial evidence that would contradict the conclusion or conclusions set forth here.          Based on these reports, the office of the District Attorney for the State of colorado Third Judicial District will not pursue criminal charges or any form of regulatory proceeding against Ofc. Petkoff for his actions of April 4, 2010. Nor will the District Attorney’s Office recommend that a special prosecutor be appointed to review this matter.  I express my condolences to the family and loved ones of Armando Gallegos for their loss, and extend my appreciation to all who assisted in the investigation.

    Very truly yours,

    Frank E Ruybalid