Officer cleared in shooting of Denver man accused of murder, mayhem
DENVER — The officer who wounded a man accused of killing one of his neighbors, shooting his wife and trying to commit mayhem on an even greater scale was cleared of wrongdoing by the Denver District Attorney’s office Monday.
District Attorney Mitch Morrissey released a thorough report Monday, saying the officer, Sgt. Jerry Heimbigner, was justified in the shooting of Daniel Abeyta, 31, who stands accused of first-degree murder, using an incendiary device during a murder, first-degree assault and child abuse.
Morrissey indicated that Heimbigner’s actions were “somewhat unusual” in that he acted as a “sniper” in shooting Abeyta prior to his arrest. However, Morrissey said the evidence suggests Abeyta could have done much more damage had Heimbigner not acted.
The Aug. 16 incident was first brought to the attention of police when Abeyta’s wife, Autume Marie Estrada, placed a 911 call at 10:50 a.m. stating she had been shot by her husband in a South Irving Street neighborhood near Evans Avenue. Estrada also told police there was a child in the residence at the time of the shooting.
When officers arrived on the scene, they struggled to approach Abeyta, who was armed with a sniper rifle, a shotgun, a handgun and two propane tanks with gunpowder on top. Police said Abeyta fired several shots at one of the propane tanks in an effort to detonate it before his arrest.
During their effort to disarm Abeyta, Morissey said police identified an unconscious person lying on a front porch near where Abeyta was pacing back and forth. That person was later identified as Sandra Roskilly. She died of a gunshot wound to the head.
Police called for residents in the area to stay in their homes.
At 11 a.m. dispatchers warned that Estrada’s 7-year-old daughter had indicated that Abeyta “wanted to have a shoot-out with officers.”
Heimbigner was one of the responding officers who arrived on scene at the corner of Harvard and Irving streets. He moved north along several homes, joined two other officers, and began making their way toward Abeyta’s position.
They took cover behind a black pickup truck and heard the gunshot when Abeyta fired at the propane tank, the report said.
Heimbinger said he “issued numerous commands to Abeyta to move to the center of the street and surrender,” the report said.
Abeyta said he wanted to talk to a priest and Heimbinger said he could do so after surrendering.
Heimbinger said he was worried Abeyta was trying to lure officers in close so he could detonate the propane tanks.
Lt. Paul Jimenez was acting as a supervisor at the scene coordinating the response. At 11:03 a.m. he issued an order “any car with a rifle who has a clear shot [take the shot].” Heimbinger responded that he had a clear shot and Jimenez responded, “if it’s necessary, take him out.”
“Abeyta started to turn toward Sgt. Heimbigner’s position and Sgt. Heimbigner fired one shot. Abeyta fell to the ground and officers immediately advanced and took him into custody,” the report said.
Abeyta suffered one gunshot wound to the chest, causing a pulmonary contusion and rib fractures, before being taken into custody, Morissey’s report stated.
DA report finds shooting was justified
After adding up all the factors, Morissey said police moved a long gun team into place in an effort to possibly subdue Abeyta from a distance so that officers could move in to assist the victims in the area. When Heimbigner informed his commanding officers he had a clear shot, he was told to “take the shot,” Morrisey wrote in his report.
Morrisey said his office put together those details with the help of at least 18 interviews with eyewitnesses, police and some of Abeyta’s relatives who had knowledge regarding his history and mental state.
The report includes photo evidence from the crime scene including the three guns Abeyta had with him at the time: a Savage 30-06 rifle mounted on a tripod, a 12 gauge shotgun with a drum magazine attached and a 9mm handgun, along with several boxes of ammunition.
Given all the factors at play, the situation necessitated Heimbigner taking the shot, Morrisey said.
“First, at least one person in Abeyta’s home had been shot and was awaiting aid,” Morrissey wrote in a presentation of his office’s findings. “Second, Abeyta was armed with several firearms and, in the officers’ presence, attempted to ignite or detonate an improvised explosive device. Third, one person was lying on a front porch within the subject’s range of fire, injured and apparently not responsive. And, finally, Abeyta had given no indication he intended to surrender without incident.”
The tragedy didn’t end after Abeyta was taken into custody, either. Roskilly’s murder left her family not only grieving, but her mother, who had been living with her, evicted from the home they shared due to what the Denver Housing Authority called “section eight housing regulations.”
The Federal Housing Authority later rebutted that report from the DHA, telling the Associated Press the federal regulations that were cited by local officials are not set in stone. Shortly after those comments from the FHA, the DHA said paperwork had cleared that allowed Roskilly’s mother to move back into the residence.