Canon City residents on police shootings: Officers have right to self-defense

December 12, 2014 Updated: December 12, 2014 at 4:20 am
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photo - Looking north on Orchard Avenue from Cherry Street on Thursday after an officer-involved shooting in Canon City. (Jakob Rodgers, The Gazette)
Looking north on Orchard Avenue from Cherry Street on Thursday after an officer-involved shooting in Canon City. (Jakob Rodgers, The Gazette) 

A 28-year-old on parole died Thursday morning after he was shot by a Cañon City police officer who fired as the man charged at the officer with a knife, police said.

Brandon Atencio suffered "a couple" of gunshot wounds to the chest and died an hour later at St. Thomas More Hospital in Cañon City, Fremont County Coroner Carlette Brocious said.

The shooting marked the second time this week that a Cañon City officer opened fire on a man armed with a knife, and it came amid a national debate over the use of deadly force by police officers.

On Saturday, Hudson Clark, 32, of Penrose was shot five times after police say he tried to steal a gun from a Cañon City pawn shop. During the confrontation, Clark stabbed Cpl. Andrew Sanders with a knife below the left armpit, police said, and when he motioned to stab Sanders once more, the officer opened fire - an act the city's police chief later said was "absolutely authorized."

Thursday's shooting happened at 9:11 a.m., shortly after police received a call about a man holding a knife and making threats on the 2000 block of Main Street, according to Cañon City police.

When officers arrived, the armed man was gone. But officers a half-mile to the north found Atencio holding a knife, leading to a short foot chase.

Atencio was shot when he turned, charged at officers and made threatening gestures, police said. Atencio collapsed in the yard of 537 Orchard Ave., before being taken to the hospital.

Up the street, Shilo Trujillo said she heard five gunshots.

"That is so unheard of around here," Trujillo said of the recent shootings. "It's not something that you hear about as much in Fremont County."

The officer, whose name was not released, was placed on paid administrative leave - routine for personnel involved in shootings until the investigation is complete, said Capt. Jim Cox, a Cañon City police spokesman. Sanders also remains on paid administrative leave after Saturday's shooting, Cox said.

Several people living on Orchard Avenue said police appeared to be justified in the recent shootings.

"You cannot threaten a police officer - that is foolish," said Sallie McQueen, who was away from home when Atencio collapsed on her lawn. "All the kid (Atencio) had to do was stop and talk to him. Stop. Instead he ran, is my understanding."

An autopsy is scheduled for Friday, and Atencio's manner of death is classified "undetermined" because of information that came to light after the shooting, Brocious said early Thursday afternoon. She did not elaborate.

Atencio served time in prison in Nebraska for a robbery and time in a Colorado prison for an assault in Teller County, Cañon City police Capt. Allen Cooper said.

He was on parole for the 2011 assault conviction, which carried a prison sentence of two years, according to the Colorado Department of Corrections database.

Court documents for a Brandon Atencio, of the same age, also show a guilty plea for obstructing a peace officer in 2010 - a misdemeanor that appears to have been part of a plea deal. A more serious felony charge of assault of a peace officer while in custody in Teller County was dismissed by a district attorney, along with misdemeanor harassment and disorderly conduct, according to the documents.

Several relatives of the man who raised Atencio live a few blocks north of the shooting scene, though they said they rarely talked to the man.

Atencio "just bounced around from place to place," often splitting time between Cañon City and Cripple Creek, said Jerry Atencio, who referred to Brandon Atencio as his nephew.

But Brandon Atencio appeared at his grandmother's Cañon City house on Wednesday evening, repeatedly mentioning Jesus - which appeared unusual - while talking "nonsense," said Jerry Atencio, who witnessed the conversation.

"He just kind of seemed like he was tense," Jerry Atencio said.

Family members said they did not know Brandon Atencio was in the neighborhood on Thursday morning.

Later Thursday, Don Atencio, who referred to himself as Brandon's uncle, said police deserved to defend themselves.

But he and his wife, Cinda Atencio, also said police could use more nonlethal means in some circumstances, such as shooting limbs or using stun guns.

A longtime resident of Cañon City, Don Atencio called the shootings part of the city's growing pains.

As the city grows, officers will confront more violent crime - making it important, he said, for the police department to increase training for officers on how to handle such situations.

"I don't see the purpose of (using) a gun right away," Don Atencio said.

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