News 5 Investigates has learned more than half of all officer-involved shootings in Pueblo since 2011 involved criminals who were either on parole or probation at the time.
A case study conducted by the Pueblo Police Department and released to Chief Investigative Reporter Eric Ross shows a total of 21 officer-involved shootings in 8 years in a city with a population of a little more than 100,000.
The felons involved in these violent shootouts with police should never even be in possession of a firearm.
“Getting a gun on the streets is just as easy as getting drugs on the streets,” Officer Michael Bellamy said. “Most of my arrests have literally been repeat offenders.”
Total # of arrests involving felons in possession of firearms
*Disclaimer: The data released by the Pueblo Police Department includes felons who have been arrested and processed through the jail system. There is no way to accurately tell how many other felons are on the streets with firearms.
Officer Bellamy has been on the Pueblo police force for 3 years. The deadly shooting involving Joe Delira-Alires, a career felon, was his second officer-involved shooting incident.
Bellamy and other officers were responding to a call from Alires’ ex who told police he was outside her home firing gunshots.
Alires took police on a high-speed chase and fired numerous rounds at officers.
Chief Investigative Reporter Eric Ross asked, “Do you think the suspect displayed a gun and started shooting not to harm you but to get away? Or, do you think he had intentions of killing officers that night?”
“Once he got out of the vehicle when the pursuit was over and continued to run and shoot back at officers, he pretty much forced our hands to respond accordingly,” Bellamy explained.
Body camera video captured officers firing multiple shots which resulted in Alires’ death.
“When he jumped out of the vehicle, obviously it (the body worn cameras) doesn’t show him having a gun in his hand, running down the street. It doesn’t show him firing back at officers. It doesn’t show him on the ground in a fighting stance shooting back at officers.”
The District Attorney’s Office ultimately ruled the shooting as justified.
Alires’ criminal history dates back nearly two decades and with multiple felonies on his record, having any type of handgun or rifle is a violation.
“When it comes to repeat offenders or dangerous felons in possession of firearms, I think there needs to be tougher sentences for them,” Bellamy said.
We reviewed every officer-involved shooting in Pueblo dating back 8 years and also looked at rap sheets for each felon.
News 5 Investigates noticed a pattern where several cases were previously dismissed by the District Attorney’s Office.
District Attorney Jeff Chostner agreed to talk about this process without referencing any one specific case.
“On occasion, you will plead out cases where you will dismiss a charge in addition to getting a conviction on the higher charge,” Chostner said.
For example, if someone is charged with armed robbery and two other misdemeanor charges, Chostner says it wouldn’t be “uncommon” for a prosecutor in that case to dismiss the misdemeanor charges in exchange for an armed robbery guilty plea. This saves tax payers money in the long run while obtaining a conviction.
However, convictions don’t always keep people behind bars.
Chostner says his office fights to keep bad felons locked up, but the data doesn’t always show that this happens.
“There’s a lot of moving parts to the criminal justice system,” Chostner said. “We can get a conviction in court and that individual is then turned over to the DOC and maybe put on parole or probation and they make their own independent decision as to whether this person is worthy of being released to the public or not.”
“It’s like a revolving door,” Chief Investigative Reporter Eric Ross told Chostner.
“It is very frustrating when we go to trial, we have all the hard work associated with that, we get a conviction and we get what we think is an appropriate sentence and then one of these other agencies releases these people back on the streets and they commit a crime,” Chostner said.
Chostner did add that his office maintains its commitment to prosecuting felons and he has the numbers to prove it.
“We have filed 25 percent more felonies in 2018 than we did in 2017 and we filed 20 percent more felonies in 2017 than we did in 2016 so we have taken a very proactive approach to criminal justice and getting these cases through the system.”
However, News 5 Investigates uncovered an apparent disconnect between law enforcement, the DA’s Office and the Department of Corrections.
“You said you’re a strong supporter of keeping these bad felons locked up, but the DOC has made a push in recent years to get people out of jails and back on the streets so it seems like no one is on the same page,” Ross told Chostner.
“I think there is a push at those institutions to put people back on the street again and to some extent there is jail overcrowding,” Chostner said. “I do think there should be a look at jail reform and who should go to jail but the public needs to understand that philosophy also has its consequences in that it can increase the incidents of repeat offenders.”
Officers on the streets say they are frustrated with having to deal with repeat offenders over and over again.
“You would think they would get held longer but it seems like it’s a never ending cycle,” Bellamy said. “We work hard to try and make the community safe and they are out within a couple of days or within 24 hours they are back on the streets.”
What’s the solution?
It will take lawmakers to solve this problem.
Chief Davenport said a recent change in state law means people who commit parole violations (which are class 5 and 6 felonies) no longer go to prison. Instead, they serve out their sentences in county jails.
However, an overcrowding problem facing jails across the state has led to numerous felons being released early, according to Davenport.
The second issue is analyzing how proactive the parole department in Colorado is at going after felons who violate the terms of their parole and catching them prior to committing another serious crime.
News 5 Investigates will continue tracking this story and we’ll bring you new information as it becomes available. You can watch part 1 of our investigation here. If you have a problem or issue you’d like to put on our radar, please call our tip line at 719-228-6275 or send an email to News 5 Investigates at KOAA.com.