An Adams County Sheriff’s deputy who fatally shot a suspected drunk driver in January was cleared of wrongdoing following nearly three months of investigation by the Adams County Critical Incident Team.
The three-member investigation team — comprised of detectives from three separate Adams County police departments — found that Senior Deputy Manuel Aragon was justified in shooting 45-year-old Robert Alan Penning, according to a March 19 letter sent by Adams County District Attorney Dave Young to Sheriff Doug Darr.
The incident began at about 5:59 p.m. Jan. 14, shortly after a woman called dispatchers to report that a suspected drunk driver had rolled his black-colored sedan off the right side of the road near East 142nd Avenue and Quebec Street.
According to reports, Penning, who was driving the sedan, exited the car, grabbed a 12 pack of beer from the vehicle and asked three unknown male witnesses for a ride after they pulled over to see if he needed help.
The woman asked the two male witnesses to help her obtain Penning’s license plate numbers and told them not to give Penning a ride while she called for help.
The men drove off after they could not find a license plate for Penning’s car.
Penning then walked to the woman’s car, holding the 12 pack of beer, and crouched behind her car for several minutes before Aragon arrived on scene.
As the deputy arrived on scene, the woman reportedly told investigators, Penning said, “Well, I guess it’s time for me to go.” Aragon walked to within 10 to 12 feet of Penning and asked if he was OK, then before Penning abruptly stood up, turned around and pointed a Smith and Wesson, .357-caliber revolver at Aragon.
The woman, who was inside her car at the time, said Aragon then told Penning to drop his weapon before Aragon fired two shots at Penning, causing him to fall into a roadside ditch.
Deputy Shawn Billings arrived on scene shortly afterward, where he handcuffed Penning until he was pronounced dead at 6:23 p.m., nearly 24 minutes after the woman’s first call was received by dispatchers.
An autopsy conducted by the Adams County Coroner’s Office later confirmed that Penning died from a single gunshot wound to his left chest area.
In his letter to Darr, Young said Aragon “used the appropriate amount of deadly force to safely stop the threat in this matter,” because Aragon was trying to protect himself and the female driver.
“During those few critical seconds on scene, Mr. Penning never dropped his weapon but retained possession of the gun and continued to point it directly at Deputy Aragon while standing just feet away from (the woman),” the letter read in part. “Under these facts, Deputy Aragon justifiably feared for his own safety and the safety of (the woman).”
Sgt. Paul Gregory said Aragon was placed on paid administrative leave following the incident but has returned to duty in the patrol division.
As a departmental procedure, Gregory said the sheriff’s office is not issuing a statement on the findings.