DENVER — A family is calling on the federal government to launch a civil rights investigation after police in El Paso County shot and killed their loved one last year.
In a letter obtained exclusively by Denver7, Leonard Martinez, an attorney for the family of Robert Garcia, asked the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division to open an investigation into the incident that happened on April 19, 2021.
"We request that the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice promptly investigate whether the Fountain Police Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of violations of civil rights by using unnecessary and excessive force against the residents of Colorado in violation of federal law," the letter says.
Fourth Judicial District Attorney Michael Allen ruled the shooting was justified. Robert Garcia's family says they believe excessive force was used after learning more details of the case.
According to body camera video obtained exclusively by Denver7, Officer Issac Abila of the Fountain Police Department arrived to the scene on northbound I-25 near Woodmen Road just before 5:30 p.m. on April 19, 2021. Colorado State Patrol troopers and other officers were also on-scene to arrest Robert Garcia, who was behind the wheel of a white U-Haul truck.
Robert Garcia led authorities on a chase after he was involved in an attempted robbery in Pueblo, Colorado State Patrol said in a press release at the time. Officers with the Fountain Police Department assisted with the pursuit. Stop sticks were used to stop Robert Garcia's car.
Less than a minute after Abila arrived on scene, Robert Garcia's car began to travel forward, body camera video shows. The officer then fired several shots through the passenger window.
Robert Garcia was transported to a local hospital where he later died.
A press releasefrom the DA's office in late August called the shooting justified and said Robert Garcia failed to comply with officer's commands. The DA said Abila fired his weapon because he thought a trooper was in the direct path of Robert Garcia's car. The release said Abila fired a total of eleven rounds. Five of them struck Robert Garcia.
"I just feel that that he didn't have to shoot my son that many times. He was surrounded with the police. He was surrounded with the cops, and he knew he wasn't going anywhere," said Gloria Garcia, Robert Garcia's mother.
"I mean, he was murdered," said Claudio Garcia, brother of Robert Garcia.
Robert Garcia was raised and still lived in Denver, his family said. They were unsure of why he had gone to Colorado Springs the day of the incident.
After seeing the body camera video, Martinez said he believed the case wasn't treated objectively.
A BB gun was found in Robert Garcia's truck, but the family attorney said that gun was never brandished at officers.
"Obviously, El Paso County works with the Fountain Police Department on criminal cases all the time," Martinez said. "So, there was some incentive, I believe, on their part to justify the shooting."
Martinez went on to say Abila's actions were "reckless."
"Not only endangering and killing Mr. Garcia, but he endangered the other officer and the state patrol that were there," he said.
Robert Garcia's three sons, ranging in age from 22 to 16, all said their father's passing has left an immense void.
"I just really hope that [the public] know that he was a loving father," said Gabriel Garcia, the eldest son. "That he cared for us deeply and off of one mistake doesn't mean you get to get your life taken away."
The son recalled his father's love of boxing and said his father prioritized teaching them the sport.
Patrick Garcia described his father's pride of their Mexican heritage saying, "he would tell us, 'you're a Garcia. We're the Garcias.'"
The youngest son, Elias Garcia, said his father died just days before he turned 16.
"I just can't let him go. He was the best person I ever had in my life, one of my only father figures," the boy said through tears.
Denver7 reached out the DA's office about the allegations of excessive force, and a spokesperson said it would be inappropriate to comment at this time.
A spokesperson for the Fountain Police Department provided the following statement:
"The 4th Judicial District has determined this shooting justified under the law. We understand there is a civil lawsuit in process and we will not comment on pending litigation."