Loveland officer who shot developmentally disabled man justified, DA finds

DA also urges "deep thought and reflection" from police, city on dealing with people in crisis
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DENVER – The Loveland police officer who shot 19-year-old Alexander Domina mid-August was justified in doing so, the 8th Judicial District Attorney ruled Friday, but he urged “deep thought and reflection” from the police department and city on how they can better address calls for people in the midst of mental and behavioral health crises.

District Attorney Gordon McLaughlin issued his decision Friday afternoon following a review of the investigation of the shooting of Domina, who had developmental disabilities, by the 8th Judicial District Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT).

Domina was shot on Aug. 16 by LPD Officer Eddie Luzon, according to McLaughlin’s letter to LPD Chief Robert Ticer. Police were called out to the home of Domina’s grandmother — his legal guardian — in the 1600 block of Tennessee Street by both the grandmother and a neighbor.

He died on Sept. 7, his attorney said earlier this week.

Domina’s grandmother told dispatch Domina was “having a mental breakdown” – breaking things and throwing them. “He is just destroying my house. He is gonna need to be committed. … Please handle him with care. It is, he is mental health,” she told dispatchers, adding that her grandson was armed with a knife.

The CIRT review found that Luzon, who was the first to arrive and who is certified in crisis intervention training, was about 45 feet away from Domina when he first stepped into the yard and tried to talk with Domina.

The review found Luzon asked Domina to put his knife down three times, asked Domina to talk to him four times, and told Domina to stop or not to come any nearer six times in the roughly 1 minute and 13 seconds between when he arrived and when the shooting happened.

About a minute after Luzon arrived, according to the review, Domina started walking toward Luzon at a “moderate pace.” In an interview, Luzon said he did not believe Domina would stop.

Luzon was able to say, “Don’t make me…,” before he shot Domina from between 15 and 23 feet away. He told investigators he did not believe there was enough time to use anything but lethal force with the gap between them and with Domina holding an eight-inch chef’s knife.

According to McLaughlin’s letter, Luzon also indicated to investigators that he thought his crisis intervention training failed “and that he failed Mr. Domina, but that he would not have done anything differently in hindsight.”

Luzon fired his weapon four times, hitting Domina three times in the torso and arm, according to the letter.

Investigators found that Domina had started his “outburst,” as McLaughlin wrote, when he was asked to do chores by his grandmother, and that he started destroying things both inside and outside of the home.

His grandmother said Domina suffered from serious physical abuse, developmental delays, and that he had been in 40 different placements before she had recently been appointed as his temporary guardian.

In McLaughlin’s review of the CIRT investigation into the shooting, he wrote that it remains unclear both whether Domina was able “to perceive or understand the situation” and that it would be unknown how a jury would assess his mental state were he to bring charges forth against Domina had he not died.

But he wrote that he “would have been unlikely to have filed criminal charges against him given the significant cognitive difficulties he faced which prevented him from full development and the significant injuries he was battling before his death.”

In his conclusion, McLaughlin called Domina’s death “a tragedy.”

“The legal analysis must begin at the point Officer Luzon was confronted with a man wielding a knife and closing quickly,” McLaughlin wrote. “however, a broader analysis of alternatives leading up to that point may have shown opportunities to have avoided this outcome. While a District Attorney only has the authority to decide the appropriateness of criminal charges, a legal justification is not a moral clearance to avoid reform.”

McLaughlin also urged reflection from both the Loveland Police Department and city leaders on how they can continue to reform their response to people in crisis. Both Domina’s death and the incident involving Loveland police officers and a 73-year-old woman with dementia who had bones broken and dislocated by Loveland officers who have now been relieved of duty and criminally charged have sparked widespread calls for change. The city reached a settlement in the federal excessive lawsuit with Karen Garner's family for $3 million earlier this week.

“While police are often used as a last resort, the burden cannot fall solely on a responding officer who did not have the knowledge provided by the subsequent investigation, including the depth of Mr. Domina’s cognitive disabilities, which even previous behavioral health intervention had failed to safely resolve,” McLaughlin wrote.

“However, it is my sincere hope that this tragedy will spark deep thought and reflection from the Loveland Police Department and Loveland city leaders regarding how best to reform their current practices to better address calls for behavioral health crises, provide alternative means of emergency response, and strive to meet modern community expectations to reduce future harm and build trust with our fellow citizens.”