November 20, 2013

DENVER – The ACLU of Colorado filed suit this morning seeking Castle Rock Police Department records related to the conduct of an on-duty police officer who put innocent civilians in danger last February when he fired multiple shots from a semi-automatic rifle at the vehicle of an unarmed fleeing burglary suspect.

The suit was brought on behalf of Michael and Susan Cardella, who were sitting inside their parked car when it was hit by one of the officer’s stray bullets.

According to the lawsuit, the officer fired at the suspect’s approaching SUV, then blindly turned while still discharging his rifle and continued firing at the rear of the vehicle as it drove away. The officer fired four to seven rounds without checking for innocent bystanders in his line of fire, which included not only the Cardellas’ vehicle, but also a nearby school, a shopping center, offices, and parking lots.

As the Cardellas watched the officer spin and fire, Mr. Cardella covered his wife’s body with his own, at which point they both felt the impact of the gunfire “slam” into their vehicle.

Mr. Cardella, a veteran of 35 years of police work, evaluates the officer’s use of firearms as reckless, uncontrolled, and unjustified.

“Police officers are entrusted with firearms with the expectation that they deploy them responsibly and only when necessary to stop an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. “When an officer’s gunfire puts bystanders in danger, a thorough investigation is warranted, and the public is entitled to know the details and the results of that investigation. Was the officer disciplined? Was additional training ordered? Was the investigation thorough and impartial or was it a whitewash aimed at protecting the officer? The public is entitled to know.”

The Castle Rock Police Department has refused to disclose any documents related to law enforcement’s investigations of the shooting, as well as police reports, witness statements, and dispatch records.

The ACLU’s lawsuit, based on Colorado’s open records laws, asserts that Castle Rock can withhold the requested documents only if disclosure would be “contrary to the public interest.”

“In a case like this, disclosure advances the public interest,” Silverstein said. “The public has a strong interest in knowing that law enforcement is appropriately holding its officers accountable for conduct that unjustifiably puts civilians at risk of injury. “

The ACLU lawsuit was filed in state district court in Douglas County by ACLU Cooperating Attorneys Matthew Douglas, Joseph Phillips, and Jeffrey Graves of Arnold and Porter LLP.

View the complaint:

Visit the case page: