A Colorado grand jury will review the death of a Latino at the hands of a police officer in the course of an undercover investigation, in order to determine the legitimacy of the officer's actions and the way his supervisors reacted, a spokesman for the dead man's family said Tuesday.
The Rev. Fidel Montoya of Denver's Latino Ministry Coalition said that the family of Juan Contreras was told Monday that the Arapahoe County prosecutor will convene a grand jury to review the conduct of the police.
The incident occurred July 23, 2011, in the parking lot of a store in Aurora, a Denver suburb.
According to the Aurora Police Department, an elderly woman lost her keys and Contreras, 59, found them and apparently asked for a certain amount of money to return them.
The woman called the authorities, who decided to tackle this suspected extortion case with an undercover investigation.
In a statement shortly after the incident, detective Bob Friel, spokesman for the Aurora PD, said that "probable cause" existed to arrest Contreras, though the details of what occurred have not been officially released.
Family members said Contreras was in his vehicle with his seat belt fastened when a plainclothes policeman tried to arrest him.
According to Friel, Contreras resisted, hit the cop and tried to stab him with a knife, prompting the officer to fire three shots.
"Knowing that a panel of citizens is reviewing the police action is a positive sign," Montoya said, adding that "the family is still tormented by questions about Contreras' death."
"All we ask is that if the officer didn't follow police rules and if, therefore, the shots were unnecessary, that the case be adequately investigated," Montoya said.
Last month attorney Kenneth Padilla, a civil rights specialist and representative of Margarita Madrigal, Contreras' widow, said that the city of Aurora has still not permitted the family access to the documents in the case.
Without those documents, Padilla said, the family does not have sufficient evidence to decide whether or not to file a civil suit against the police officer who fired the fatal shots.
Delgadina Madrigal, daughter of the victim, her mother and her brothers tried fruitlessly last week to meet with the Aurora police chief when they learned that the officer who shot Contreras had returned to duty, even though the case has not yet been settled.
"This is an important case for the community. The sluggishness with which the Aurora Police Department and the Arapahoe County prosecutor are moving will not affect in the slightest our determination to see that justice is done in this sad story," Montoya said.