JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — The suspect accused of shooting and killing a K-9 near the Colorado School of Mines in February has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
Following his arrest, Eduardo Armando Romero, 30, was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals (Class 6 felony), identity theft (Class 4 felony), felony menacing using a real or simulated weapon (Class 5 felony), vehicular eluding (Class 5 felony), motor vehicle theft (Class 5 felony), driving under the influence (misdemeanor), resisting arrest (Class 2 misdemeanor), and obstructing a peace officer (Class 2 misdemeanor).
During the brief arraignment on Monday afternoon, Romero's defense said they were entering a not guilty plea, which was accepted by the judge.
A pre-trial conference was set for 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 11.
Monday marked his fifth arraignment hearing, which had been continued since the first one was scheduled for June 12.
Eduardo is currently at the Arrowhead Correctional Facility in Cañon City, where he is serving sentences for multiple convictions out of Denver.
The incident began around 12:15 a.m. on Feb. 13. According to the Golden Police Department, its officers helped the Colorado School of Mines' police officers after they had contacted a driver near 19th Street and Elm Street. Romero, who was slumped over the steering wheel, was unresponsive, Golden police said. He then woke up and started slowly driving while swerving into oncoming traffic before a Mines officer and Golden officer were able to stop him, said Colorado School of Mines Police Chief Dustin Olson. He then slumped over again, police said.
Olson said when Romero woke up a second time, he refused to exit the car or listen to police commands and started to ram patrol cars trying to escape. The officers were able to break the driver's side window to put the car in park, but during this struggle, Romero was able to break free. He ran eastbound on 19th Street toward the campus, police said.
As police pursued the suspect, he allegedly pointed a handgun at an officer, police said. He ran into a wooded area and disappeared from view. A shelter-in-place order was issued for anybody on campus.
By 1:12 a.m., more officers, including Jefferson County Sheriff's Office (JCSO) K-9 units, arrived. A K-9 located the suspect in the wooded area near W. 6th Avenue and 19th Street and, under his handler's command, moved to apprehend Romero.
The K-9 ran in front of the deputies, who followed behind him. They heard gunshots and saw that the K-9 had been struck. A JCSO deputy returned fire, which did not hit Romero, said Golden Sgt. Ben Salentine.
The K-9 was identified as K-9 Graffit. He died at the scene.
Romero came out of hiding and surrendered to police at 4:54 a.m. According to the police department, he had an empty holster, but a firearm was found nearby. He was taken to a hospital and released into police custody.
K9 community remembering fallen Jefferson County police dog
Jefferson County Sheriff Reggie Marinelli said K-9 Graffit had worked with the JCSO since 2015 in narcotics and patrol services, including apprehension. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Marinelli said the K-9's handler was doing OK, but it was an emotional situation.
A procession was held for K-9 Graffit at 9 a.m. that morning.
Romero was booked into the Jefferson County Detention Facility on several charges.
After the shooting, Denver7 viewers asked why Romero did not face harsher charges related to the K-9's death. In short, at the time, Colorado law did not have a specific statute protecting police canines. But that changed in June, when House Bill 23-1286, titled "Increase Penalty Cruelty Police And Service Animals," was signed into law after being introduced on April 5 by primary sponsors Rep. Ryan Armagost and Rep. Monica Duran.
Colorado bill signed into law in June increases penalties for cruelty to K-9s
A week after the shooting, Romero said he thought he had shot the ground, blaming his confusion on smoking, drinking and eating a lot the night prior while watching the Super Bowl. He said he ran away from police because he knew there were warrants out for his arrest, according to an arrest affidavit.
He appeared in court on June 12, where the defense asked for a change in his bond, which was set at $300,000 cash on Feb. 14.
A deputy who responded to the college campus that evening was allowed to speak in court, and said that anything less than that bond would be a "disgrace" and "we won’t see this man anywhere again."
Prosecutors explained that Romero had multiple instances of failing to appear. The judge later noted he saw at least 14. The prosecution said at the time of his alleged crimes on Feb. 13, he had seven warrants out for his arrest.
The prosecution also said that when Romero spoke with a friend after the shooting, he said he would "smoke somebody" and "send them to be with the doggie."
The defense argued that $300,000 cash-only was not a reasonable retention bond, adding that the prosecution was presenting their argument like Romero was already guilty.
At the end of that hearing, Judge Jason D. Carrithers noted Romero's number of failures to appear over the years and said without a cash bond, it is unlikely Romero would appear in court. He decided to keep the bond.
The healing process for Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy Zachary Oliver, the handler for K-9 Graffit, has been ongoing since the day his partner died.
But he was set on continuing his work with K-9s. In July, he introduced his new K-9, Ragnar.
"I had felt like I didn't have a purpose for a while after I lost Graffit," he said. "And now, since getting Ragnar, I feel like I have a purpose."
Nobody can replace Graffit, he said, adding that the dog will always have a special place in his heart.
"I feel like Graffit trained me more than I trained him, in a lot of aspects," Oliver said. "And now, I'm trying to — with Ragnar — live up to Graffit’s expectations."