Newly obtained police body-camera footage shows a Colorado police officer in his third day on the job fatally shoot a man attempting to flee in a suspicious vehicle.
The officer, Erik Hernandez, 34, was indicted in June by a Weld County grand jury on a charge of second-degree murder in the killing of 38-year-old Juston Reffel, according to an indictment obtained by CNN.
The indictment and video, obtained by CNN, show what happened leading up to the May 3 shooting. CNN affiliate KUSA was first to release the video.
The incident began at a Family Dollar store in LaSalle, Colorado, when Hernandez and officer Sam Johnson noted a suspicious white Dodge Magnum that was illegally parked, had been unprofessionally painted white, had an obscured vehicle ID number and had no record for the out-of-state license plate affixed to it, according to the indictment.
In the video, the vehicle is parked across two spots, and the officers remark that the vehicle smells like fresh paint. Johnson pulls a police vehicle directly in front of the Dodge to block it in, the video shows.
The officers walked into the store trying to look for the driver of the vehicle, the indictment states. Reffel, inside the store, set off the emergency exit door alarm and then ran out of the front of the store, and the officers followed, according to the video and indictment.
Hernandez positioned himself along the driver’s side of the Dodge vehicle and yelled at Reffel to get out of the car, the indictment states. Despite the warnings, Reffel put the car in reverse, backed up a few feet and then put the vehicle in drive and began to pull away, according to the indictment and video.
That’s when Hernandez fired four shots, the video shows.
“Dispatch, shots fired,” Hernandez says, according to the video.
Reffel drove a bit but collided with the back of another vehicle, the indictment states. He was taken to a nearby hospital and pronounced dead due to a single gunshot wound to the torso, the indictment states.
“The Defendant acted knowingly with respect to his conduct described above and was not justified in the actions he took pursuant to the affirmative defense of peace officer’s use of deadly physical force,” the indictment reads.
Havilah Louise Bruno Lilly, an attorney for Hernandez, issued a statement saying he “is presumed innocent, and he deserves a fair trial by a jury of his peers.”
Officer was on 3rd day of the job
At the time of the shooting, Hernandez was in his third day of employment with the LaSalle Police Department and was in field training, police said. He had about six years of prior law enforcement experience “with no documented excessive use of force concerns,” police said.
The department placed Hernandez on administrative leave in the wake of the shooting and then terminated him after the indictment, police said.
The former officer is out on $50,000 bond, and his next court appearance is set for November 22, according to court records.
“We fully intend to ensure that Mr. Hernandez’s innocence remains intact as the case proceeds through the criminal justice system,” Bruno Lilly said.
Baumgartner Law, which is representing Reffel’s family, issued a statement in response to the indictment.
“The enormity of this tragedy cannot be understated and cannot be tolerated by the legal and law enforcement community,” the firm said. “Although the Reffel family is relieved by the indictment, this is just a first step in achieving justice for Juston.”
Reffel was born and raised in northern Colorado and loved the outdoors, and he was often found outside fishing, camping and cooking out, according to his obituary.
“Juston was known to many, he was a father, a son, a brother, a husband, and a good friend. His loss will be tough for his loved ones. We all know that he is now up with his grandpa, Dennis, fishing and having a good time,” the obituary said.
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