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Family of unarmed, pregnant woman sues Arvada police in her death

Francis Thompson understands that police have a job to do. His father was a Denver Sheriff deputy and his first cousin is a Thornton police officer.

But to Thompson, five Arvada officers who were involved in the shooting death of his pregnant daughter were not on the good side of the law.

“I want payback. I was pissed-off then and I still am,” said Thompson in an interview at his attorney’s office.

He described his daughter Destinee Thompson as a “beautiful soul with a big personality” who used to read to her younger siblings.

Thompson and his ex-wife, Carmela Delgado, filed an excessive force and wrongful death lawsuit Tuesday against all five officers almost exactly two years after Destinee Thompson, 27, was mistaken for an armed robbery suspect.

She died at the scene from a single gunshot wound to the chest. One officer fired eight shots at her retreating car from 25 yards away.

A First Judicial District Critical Incident Response Team justified the shooting after having reviewed 1,450 photographs and more than 600 pages of reports from the Arvada, Golden and Wheat Ridge police departments, and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

The CIRT decision letter was made public in April 2022.

Thompson was leaving the American Motel at I-70 and Kipling Aug. 17, 2021 to meet Delgado for lunch when she was mistaken for another woman who had just committed an armed robbery at knifepoint at a Target store nearby.

That woman, whom a witness reported to be white or Latina with a distinctive tattoo on her chest, was described as wearing a white top and black or blue pants.

Thompson was seven months pregnant, unarmed, had no identifiable tattoo on her chest, and was wearing a white tank top and black pants.

The witness who first reported the robbery incident followed the robbery suspect to the American Motel where she entered with the Target shopping cart full of stolen merchandise and rolled it into an an elevator where she rode up to the third floor.

The suspect, Shawna Colby, was first seen on Target surveillance cameras wearing a black tank top over a white one, but she later removed the black top. Colby was later arrested and charged with the robbery.

Thompson’s attorneys said that the only thing Thompson and Colby had in common was that “both women were wearing white tank tops.”

Investigative sources who asked not to be identified also told The Denver Gazette that Thompson’s purse strap draped across her arm made it hard to tell if she had a tattoo on her chest.

Thompson happened to be leaving the American Motel as a team of five plain-clothed and uniformed Arvada officers arrived. Officers stopped her, but Thompson told them that they had the wrong woman.

“It’s not me. It’s not me. I’m going. I’m leaving. It’s not me,” she told one officer.

The mother of three was not carrying identification, adding to the CIRT observation that her answers to police contained “minimal information.”

It was when Thompson started driving away in her white van that the situation went awry.

The Arvada Police press release differs from the account described in the complaint. There is no video to help discern exactly what happened as the APD did not start wearing body-worn camera video until the summer of 2022.

According to Arvada Police, Thompson ran to her van, got inside and put it in reverse, hitting an unmarked police vehicle. From there, police said she accelerated forward and jumped the curb, causing one of the officers to ascertain that “her dangerous driving behavior posed an imminent threat to the officers on the driver’s side.”

That’s when Arvada officer Andrew Benallo drew his weapon, the press release stated.

But the lawsuit’s complaint described a more chaotic scene. It stated that as Thompson was leaving, officers surrounded her and one of them broke her front passenger window with a baton. When Thompson began driving forward, the complaint states, Officer Benallo drew his weapon and fired eight times from 25 yards away. The final shot was fatal.

The First Judicial District Critical Incident Response Team cleared Benallo because he “had objectively reasonable grounds to believe, and did believe, that he and the officers were in imminent danger of being killed or suffering serious bodily injury” concluding that Thompson’s shooting death was justified.

In their release, Arvada Police said that Thompson posed an imminent threat to the life of another officer and “Therefore, he chose to use deadly force to stop that threat.”

Benallo was put on modified, paid leave for a time after the incident but is now back on the street working patrol, according to Arvada Police spokesperson Dave Snelling.

Thompson and Delgado’s attorney, Siddhartha Rathod, said Arvada police should have never stopped the expectant mother in the first place.

“These officers murdered Destinee Thompson and her unborn child and the public should be outraged,” he said.

The complaint does not state how much compensation Destinee Thompson’s family is asking in her death but for her father, life will never be the same.

“It’s been a living nightmare. I don’t wish this on anybody,” Francis Thompson said.”My daughter was murdered as far as I’m concerned.”

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