A Colorado Springs police sergeant involved in the fatal shooting of 19-year-old De’Von Bailey was one of two officers who shot and killed a fleeing man in 2012.
Then-Officer Alan Van’t Land was ultimately cleared of wrongdoing in the death of Robert Kresky, who was shot 14 times in a darkened parking lot in the city’s Knob Hill neighborhood.
Investigators determined that Kresky, 23, had no gun, even though he told officers, “I will shoot you!” as he ran, according to a March 2013 report from the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
The suspect kept his hand in his waistband while hurling threats, leading Van’t Land to fire his weapon, “certain” that a gunbattle was imminent.
Officers fired on Kresky after he collapsed, reporting that he was “messing with something around his waistband,” the report said.
Kresky died four days later. A gun was found on the ground next to Kresky’s stolen Jeep several blocks away. Prosecutors ruled the shooting “reasonable, appropriate and justified,” the report said.
The Gazette reported the Dec. 3, 2012, shooting in the 100 block of North Iowa Street, but didn’t identify Van’t Land or the other officer involved, Adam Wheeler.
The shooting six years ago, with its parallels to the death of Bailey, who also was running from the officers and witnesses said was not holding a weapon, came under scrutiny in El Paso County Court on Wednesday. An attorney for Lawrence Stoker, Bailey’s cousin, pressed for access to Internal Affairs reports on Van’t Land.
In response, Frederick Stein of the Colorado Springs City Attorney’s Office told a judge, “There are no IA records about Sgt. Van’t Land.”
Because the Kresky shooting was considered justified, and without official complaints, Stein said police “did not create any type of investigation.”
Stoker’s attorney, Danny Kay, said he was “stunned” given Van’t Land’s claim he was sure the unarmed Kresky had a gun.
Police say an internal review would have been required after the shooting, but that it wouldn’t be public.
Under police protocol, a “critical incident report” must be compiled after a deadly shooting, focusing on how police could have improved their response. Results are presented to the police chief for review, and considered “internal” and “confidential,” said police spokesman Jim Sokolik.
Only if an officer is suspected of wrongdoing would an Internal Affairs investigation be initiated, Sokolik added.
Kresky was described in the DA’s report as the head of the “Kresky Criminal Organization,” an affiliation of meth-addicted burglars and car thieves with ties to Mexican drug suppliers.
The group was being monitored by a special police unit, and Kresky was under surveillance when the Dec. 4, 2012, chase and shooting occurred.
A second man tied to Kresky’s group, Nicholas Titus, was shot and killed roughly two weeks later by two other officers.
The DA’s Office said in a report that Titus was killed Dec. 21, 2012, while brandishing a gun at officers, after a wild pursuit in which he rammed a police car, tried to run down at least one officer on foot, and drove toward a crowd of people.
Titus had vowed revenge against the officers involved in shooting Kresky, and told friends he wouldn’t be taken alive by police, prosecutors said. The Titus shooting also was determined to be justified.
Van’t Land is an Air Force Academy graduate and former Marine. Wheeler is a former Olympic wrestler. Both were awarded two Medals of Valor in 2014 — the Police Department’s highest honor — for incidents unrelated to Kresky’s shooting.
In the Bailey shooting, Van’t Land and Officer Blake Evenson were responding to a report of an armed robbery on Aug. 3 when they stopped Bailey and Stoker.
Both suspects matched descriptions given by the caller, who also told police that Bailey had a gun.
The officers’ body cameras were on during the fateful moments that Bailey took off running, followed by officers who began to shoot as they chased him, after shouting at him to stop and to show his hands.
Bailey’s death spawned protests at City Hall and the Colorado Springs Police Operations Center, with some of Bailey’s relatives and supporters calling his death “murder.” The shooting remains under investigation by the District Attorney’s Office, which will determine if it was justified.
A gun was found on Bailey after he collapsed, body cam videos show.
Van’t Land and Evenson were returned to normal duty after a mandatory, three-day administrative leave, police said.
Stoker’s assault citation stems from the emergency call about the robbery. Kay contends no robbery occurred, and that Stoker acted in self-defense during a fight that the caller started.
Kay also pointed to a 2011 incident in which Van’t Land and two other officers were accused of using excessive force against a 51-year-old man who refused to obey a court order to turn his grandson over to police. Van’t Land pinned him to the ground and struck his shoulder three times with his fist, the complaint said. Another officer then tased the man on his lower back and thigh for a combined 13 seconds.
The claim was dismissed after the city paid $50,000 to settle the case, according to a quarterly report to the City Council dated February 2012.
A police spokesman said he found no record of disciplinary action against Van’t Land in the incident.
Stein, of the City Attorney’s Office, accused Kay of mounting a “fishing expedition” in his hunt for disciplinary records, and El Paso County Judge Samuel Evig suggested that prior allegations of excessive force by Van’t Land and Evenson would be irrelevant at Stoker’s trial.
That’s because the officers were involved only in his arrest and have no information about the alleged assault, Evig said.
“I can see where they would be highly relevant to a different proceeding,” the judge added, apparently referring to the potential for a wrongful death action. Kay and Denver attorney David Lane also represent the Bailey family.
At Kay’s request, Evig agreed to review Internal Affairs records on Evenson, but said he would release them to the defense only if they raised questions about Evenson’s “general credibility,” and only under a protective order.