In less than two months last year, the Brighton Police Department was involved in three high-speed pursuits that culminated in death or individuals being ejected from a car, according to an investigation.
Internal investigations into all three chases discovered issues with the way the chase began or ended. Police were pursuing a stolen vehicle driven by Nicholas Villarini through a residential neighborhood when the most recent crash happened on Oct. 26.
That day, two innocent bystanders, Gustavo Mosqueda, 25, and Dulce Castro, 21, were killed. Castro was a passenger in a car that was struck by Villarini’s vehicle. Mosqueda was struck while strolling in his own neighborhood.
While attempting to flee former Brighton Police Officer Charles Hundley, dashcam video obtained by the researchers shows Villarini driving through at least seven stop signs and ignoring multiple yield signs.
Villarini is facing multiple accusations, including two counts of first-degree murder. Hundley was fired in January, and by the time this report aired, he had not responded to the researchers’ request for an interview. Gustavo’s older sister, Maricruz Mosqueda, admitted, “It was incompetence.”
Gustavo’s younger sister, Analucia Mosqueda, remarked, “No one was doing their job correctly that day.”
Requests for records and investigations
On Nov. 3, the researchers submitted an open records request for dashcam video, bodycam video, and incident reports from the fatal crash.
The requests were first declined by the city of Brighton, which claimed that “publication may endanger an existing inquiry.” FOX31 fought back and eventually acquired videos of the fatal incident as well as additional police-related pursuit crashes for a total of $435.
The researchers also uncovered an internal memo revealing that the deputy police chief did not propose an internal affairs probe into the fatal incident until November 22, nearly a month after it occurred. The city manager, on the other hand, stated that an internal affairs probe was discussed “straight away.”
Although the city of Brighton did not have a contract in place until November, personnel “began to commence negotiations with the consultant for the investigation on October 29, 2021,” according to the city. According to Linda Ong, a spokesman for the City of Brighton, “then the city had to go through the procurement procedure.”
The chase should not have been started, according to the inquiry, which was completed by Santo Consulting, LLC in January 2022. “No violent felony offense or other act of violence was committed that necessitated the suspect to be pursued quickly,” the independent assessment said.
The Colorado State Patrol concluded an investigation into the crash in mid-February and forwarded the findings to the Brighton Police Department and the 17th Judicial District Attorney’s office for review, but the researchers have yet to receive that report.
Before the chase, what happened?
Hundley confronted Villarini when he was sleeping in a “suspect” stolen automobile at the end of a residential drive, according to body camera video obtained by the researchers.
At the time, Villarini had multiple minor offenses on his record but had not been charged with any recent or imminent serious crime. According to the Santo Consulting LLC assessment, “Officer Hundley did not establish exigent circumstances to follow a stolen car.”
“Vehicle pursuits are normally not authorized for property offenses, including stolen vehicles, absent exigent circumstances,” according to Brighton Police Department policy at the time.
Prior to the start of the chase, video collected by the researchers showed Hundley approaching the vehicle to obtain Villarini’s name, date of birth, and the identity of his passenger. He went back to his patrol car to await backup.
On the police radio, someone inquired if the stolen vehicle might be “pinched,” which is a police term for halting it, but Hundley said that such a strategy was unnecessary. “Pinching is unnecessary. They are already parked and will not be moving any time soon. “I have got my patrol car in front of them,” Hundley said.
Brighton Police Commander Nick Struck attempted to block Villarini with his unmarked pickup truck by pulling to the front of the stolen vehicle less than a minute later, according to body camera video.
That is when Villarini attempted to flee the scene. He clipped the front of Struck’s car as he exited the scene, then placed the stolen car in reverse before circling Hundley’s police car and racing away. Struck’s vehicle had been “rammed,” according to Police Chief Paul Southard, following the chase.
What did the pursuit investigation uncover?
Hundley told investigators that he started the chase “because he thought the suspect…had committed 2nd degree assault on a police officer and criminal menacing when he hit Commander Struck’s vehicle.”
“The 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office did not accept charges of either 2nd-degree assault on a police officer or felony menacing” against Villarini, according to the outside assessment. “A supervisor never raised worry about public safety or the south direction to Officer Hundley on the air.
Officer Hundley should have ended the chase when he saw the suspect’s reckless driving, high rates of speed through residential neighborhoods, and near-miss collisions with uninvolved cars, according to the study. The commander’s handling of the chase was also judged to have shortcomings, according to the review.
The assessment determined that “Commander Struck did not assume quick leadership of the pursuit after Officer Hundley drove away,” and that he “did not exercise control in supervising the pursuit or offer unambiguous direction to the officers to discontinue the pursuit,” according to the report.
Struck has filed an administrative appeal against any disciplinary action taken against him. As a result, the city refused to tell the researchers what the original discipline was.
Experts in criminal justice examine the video.
The researchers enlisted the help of two specialists to examine the crash video as well as other footage from the Brighton Police Department. Dr. Paul Taylor is a former cop who now works as an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver, where he investigates police decision-making.
Dr. Dennis Kenney, a professor at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, co-authored research about police pursuits that was funded by the US Justice Department.
“Unless that individual is actively attempting to hurt others, and I believe there is an urgent and continuing threat that this person will be actively attempting to harm people if I do not stop them now,” Taylor said.
Kenney said the fact that the suspect’s car collided with an unmarked police car while attempting to flee was enough to “attempt to make a traffic stop,” but “I would not consider that cause for a pursuit.”
“When a pursuit occurs, just a few things can happen, and the most of them are unpleasant,” Kenney added. “They pose a serious threat, and that threat must be considered,” Taylor said.
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