GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KREX) — No charges are to be filed against the Deputy who shot a man on April 28 in Grand Junction.
In a letter to Detective Charles Rojo with the Grand Junction Police Department, District Attorney Dan Rubinstein advised against filing charges against Deputy Andrew Baca. Deputy Baca shot Rafael Lopez-Leon on April 28, 2023.
The following information is attributed to the District Attorney’s findings of fact from the April 28, 2023 CIRT Investigation
Shortly after 4 p.m. on April 28, GJPD Officer Tim Long attempted to conduct a traffic stop on a truck Lopez-Leon was driving north on 28 1/4 road with an expired license plate. Dispatch informed Officer Long an active warrant was connected to the license plate. Officer Long observed Lopez-Leon to be acting erratic and appearing to be intoxicated. Officer Long used his lights and sirens and gave verbal commands with his patrol vehicle’s public address system, but then Lopez-Leon sped away with seemingly no regard for public safety. Per GJPD policy, Officer Long did not pursue the truck.
Officer Long used law enforcement records to confirm Leon-Lopez’s identity. Dispatch aired the vehicle’s description to all law enforcement officers and warned the truck had evaded law enforcement in February 2022.
Deputy Andrew Baca located the truck traveling east on 28 Road and followed it to a trailer park at 480 28 1/4 Road. Deputy Baca parked his patrol car about three feet behind the truck, and attempted to hold Lopez-Leon inside the truck at gunpoint while he waited for other officers to arrive on scene.
Lopez-Leon instead got of his truck with a metal hammer and retrieved an approximately 3 foot long wood handle from the bed of his truck before beginning to walk towards Deputy Baca, ignoring Deputy Baca’s commands to stop moving.
Deputy Baca heard Lopez-Leon mumbling and appearing to “look through him” while advancing. Deputy Baca switched his firearm for his taser, which, according to Deputy Baca, was only effective in making Lopez-Leon angrier.
Deputy Baca was stepping backwards in an area with many trip hazards that had him concerned for his safety while Lopez-Leon continued his advancement with the hammer in one hand and the handle in the other. As Lopez-Leon approached Deputy Baca, the deputy switched from his taser back to his firearm and fired one bullet at Lopez-Leon.
A momentary pause ensured before Lopez-Leon continued his advancement and threw the wooden handle at Deputy Baca, who discharged four shots at Lopez-Leon, ending the altercation.
GJPD officers arrived on scene shortly after and provided medical aid to Lopez-Leon until the Grand Junction Fire Department arrived and took Lopez-Leon to the hospital, where he was pronounced deceased.
Evidence from the crime scene found a metal hammer and 3 foot long wooden stick, and Deputy Baca’s firearm was missing five bullets. Deputy Baca retreated 85 feet from where he attempted to hold Lopez-Leon in the truck while waiting for backup to arrive before firing the fatal shots.
Although Deputy Baca’s body worn camera was not activated before the conclusion of the incident, a local surveillance camera from a nearby trailer was recording. The two only step into frame near the end of the 85-foot journey, but the camera did capture audio from the entire event.
Both the video and the audio led investigators to believe the events unfolded as Deputy Baca recalled.
The Mesa County Coroner did not detect any drugs or alcohol from Lopez-Leon’s autopsy and attributed his cause of death to five gunshot wounds to the upper torso.
Upon speaking with family members, detectives learned Lopez-Leon suffered from mental health issues, but the family could not afford to get him the needed medical help or prescriptions.
Citizens had reported Lopez-Leon as a suspicious person to law enforcement, and law enforcement contacted him several times between 2015-2022 for sitting in his truck at locations he was not associated to.
Lopez-Leon evaded traffic stops attempted by officers prior to the incident, which Deputy Baca was made aware via the dispatch communication shortly before he spotted Lopez-Leon’s truck.
DA Rubinstein found Deputy Baca’s response to be lawful and appropriate in the defense of themselves and others, and did not file charges against him. Instead, had Lopez-Leon survived the encounter, DA Rubinstein would have charged him with attempted first-degree assault.
Deputy Baca has been with the MCSO for four years and is a use of force instructor. Deputy Baca is also a trainer in arrest control, defensive tactics, and de-escalation.