DENVER (AP) — A Colorado corrections officer who killed a man during a shootout between two biker clubs at a Denver motorcycle show won't face criminal charges because his self-defense claim makes it unlikely a jury would convict him, prosecutors said Tuesday.
The decision not to prosecute Derrick Duran, a member of the Iron Order Motorcycle Club made up mostly of police and military, added to the frustration of other biker groups that complain the club's members pick fights, then use their law enforcement connections to avoid punishment.
The January melee at the Colorado Motorcycle Expo, a gathering of biker clubs from across the country, left Mongols member Victor Mendoza dead and seven others shot, beaten or stabbed.
Duran, 33, told investigators he feared for his life when he fired the first shot during the escalating fight, wounded one, Denver police Cmdr. Ron Saunier said. Duran then went to the top of a staircase, where Mendoza fired at him, grazing his body and hitting another man. Duran returned fire, killing Mendoza.
Investigators spent months trying to piece together more than 40 witness accounts, sometimes stalled by uncooperative Mongols, Saunier said. Police discussed the possibility of charges, including first-degree murder, but prosecutors did not believe they could overcome Duran's self-defense claim.
Duran was put on leave during the investigation but has returned to full duty, a corrections department spokeswoman said.
The case put a spotlight on the Iron Order. Experts say its members are increasingly becoming entangled in violence with other biker groups, blurring the line between professionals sworn to uphold the law and a biker culture with a long history of criminal activity. One source of friction is that the Iron Order adopts emblems more common to well-established gangs, according to experts.
The Mongols and Iron Order blame each other for inciting the latest skirmish. And both sides claimed self-defense. Stephen Stubbs, an attorney for the Mongols, said at the time that Mendoza was killed when he tried to disarm Duran.
But unlike the Mongols, at least 17 Iron Order members waited on scene and spoke to investigators, Saunier said.
The decision not to prosecute "sends a clear signal to that motorcycle club and others like it that they can indiscriminately provoke confrontations and kill people and get away with it," said David Devereaux, a spokesman for the National Council of Clubs, who worried about violence at future events.
Iron Order insists it is a charitable brotherhood of family men who like to ride and whose members have lawfully defended themselves during confrontations provoked by other groups.
Club attorney John Whitfield said the negative attention brought by the shooting was unwarranted, and its members will continue to attend motorcycle shows.
"We've got a right to be there," he said. "This was without question self-defense. Unfortunately, Mr. Mendoza lost his life. It's a tragedy, but a tragedy caused by the actions of the club of which he was a member."
Denver attorney Brad Freedberg, who represents Mendoza's two adult sons, questioned why weapons were allowed at a motorcycle show, where tempers easily flare.
"It's like attaching a fuse to a bomb," he said, adding that the event lacked metal detectors. "There's a lot of blame to go around for this."