Police Shooting Startles Community, Shuts Down Main Highway

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by by Rick Langenberg:

 

 

 

Two Woodland Park police officers will remain on administrative leave indefinitely, pending an investigation of a shooting death early last week that killed a 20-year-old Colorado Springs man, who reportedly tried to run over one of the policemen and flee the scene following a traffic stop.

The suspect, Craig Bondo, was pronounced dead at Penrose Hospital. Besides an official investigation by the Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office, Woodland Park City Manager David Buttery stated Friday that an internal inquiry will be launched by the police department to see if proper policies were followed regarding these types of cases.

The shooting occurred after a traffic stop on U.S. Hwy. 24 on Jan. 22 near the Wal-Mart store. Officials have declined to release the specifics, but have confirmed that a multitude of shots were fired by one of the WP officers who stopped the suspect.

Bondo reportedly hit one of the officers with the vehicle while trying to escape. This led the other officer, who was standing directly behind the vehicle, to open fire, according to eyewitness reports. Officials believe that only one of the officers fired shots at the suspect’s vehicle. “One of the officers may have been threatened by the suspect’s vehicle,” said Buttery, during a press conference, the afternoon of the incident, when briefly discussing the incident.

The shooting was precipitated by reports of a stolen car. Bondo had just exited the Wal-Mart store, when officers tried to stop him. They had learned the car he was driving was stolen from Colorado Springs and tried to arrest him. However, officials are still mum about what he was originally stopped for.

The incident emerged as a surreal scene on a picture-perfect January day, with temperatures hovering above 50 degrees. A caravan of at least 15 emergency and law enforcement vehicles raced down U.S. Hwy. 24 shortly after 2:30 p.m. Initially, reports of a serious accident bustled throughout the downtown area, but soon news of an officer-related shooting quickly circulated around town.

Several employees of an office building, overlooking the opposite side of U.S. Hwy. 24 from the shooting scene, reported hearing several gun shots and then a continual buzz of emergency vehicles.”It sounded like a car backfiring,” said one of the employees. They said they learned otherwise when a flurry of police cars raced to the scene. “Our scanner was going crazy and then it just stopped,” said the person who heard the shots.

Security was extremely tense around the scene, with investigative teams scanning for clues at two locations on U.S. Hwy. 24. No one, including representatives of the print and television media, was permitted near the area. Besides the Woodland Police, officers from the Teller County Sheriff’s Department, Colorado State Patrol, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and local emergency service groups assisted with the case. A prime section of east-bound U.S. Hwy. 24 was closed throughout the afternoon and evening. Lengthy traffic delays occurred on U.S. Hwy. 24 throughout the afternoon,, as east-bound traffic was diverted at the Safeway shopping center intersection. Motorists were directed down Woodland Avenue and Old Country Road.

The incident has sparked mixed reactions from community residents. Many believe that the officers didn’t have a choice and questioned the decision by the suspect to flee the scene. Others wondered about the amount of shots fired and other details regarding the handling of the arrest, such as the positioning of the officers. These details may be revealed during the internal inquiry being done by the city.

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Buttery cited officer shootings as extremely rare for Woodland Park. “This is a big thing for our police department and for the greater community of Woodland Park,” said the city manager at Tuesday’s press conference.

On Friday, he confirmed that counselors and psychiatrists will be available to help WP personnel deal with the situation. The loss of a life, while performing law enforcement duties, can weigh heavily on the officers involved and the entire department, according to officials. Woodland Park is currently staffed with 19 uniformed police officers, according to Buttery.

The last officer-related shooting occurred in September 2007 when a veteran Woodland Park officer shot and killed a 40-year-old woman who was conducting an armed robbery at the City Market pharmacy at the old Ben Franklin outlet in the Gold Hill Square Shopping Center. The shooting victim, Jennifer Freis, died at the scene. The Woodland Park Police offier was threatened by the victim, who refused to surrender her weapon, and was cleared of any wrongdoing. He was later honored during a ceremony held in the Woodland Park City Council Chambers. Authorities stated that if the officer hadn’t taken the action he did, more people may have been killed or injured.

Prior to that, the Woodland Park Police have encountered hardly any shootings resulting in deaths. The police did experience a fatality in the early 1990s during a police chase with a motorcyclist, resulting in an accident-related death in the lower Ute Pass.

The latest shooting incident is now being investigated by the Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office and is expected to take at least several weeks to complete. The DA will be reviewing whether any laws were violated during the shooting.

According to Buttery, both of the responding officers were separated immediately after the shooting, to eliminate the possibilities of stories getting shared or collaborated. “We want to do everything we can to protect their rights as well as those of the family of the deceased,” said the city manager, who has been acting as the main spokesman for the city regarding the case.

Buttery and other officials have refused to release the names of the officers involved.