Case file paints picture of a "neighborhood watchman" killing in self-defense 

Before the gunshot

click to enlarge Garcia's shooter was no stranger. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Garcia's shooter was no stranger.

On Sept. 7, the Colorado Springs Police Department released redacted documents from a homicide case that closed without prosecution, despite evidence that tensions between the shooter and the man he shot may have been racially tinged ("No answers," News, Sept. 7).

The 312-page case file isn't exactly revelatory, but it does help flesh out some previously lacking details.

Undisputed is that in mid-July, 23-year-old Jesse Garcia, who was black, followed his neighbor, 80-year-old Jack Rogers, who is white, into a Taco Bell parking lot on South Nevada Avenue. Garcia exited his Mustang, leaving the door open and engine running, to approach Rogers' International Scout. Two officers who reviewed surveillance footage say Garcia appeared calm and non-confrontational, though Rogers insisted Garcia was cussing aggressively from the get-go.

In an interview with police after the fact, Rogers described Garcia as "a light complexion Negro [whose] eyes looked like the devil" and repeatedly emphasized that Garcia must have been high. (A toxicology report found Garcia was clean.)

Rogers told police that when Garcia approached, he picked up the semi-automatic .40-calliber handgun he keeps near the center console of his truck, holding it near his chest. When he then reached to pull out his cell phone, he said Garcia suddenly lunged at the Glock, trying to pry it from his hands.

Eyewitnesses described this phase of the incident as a "fight," "argument," "tussle," "scuffle," "jostling" and "wrestling." The surveillance footage reportedly shows Garcia lean his head and shoulders into the car.

That's when a shot was fired, putting a bullet in Garcia's right temple. Multiple people called 9-1-1, including Rogers himself who stayed in the car throughout.

"I shot a guy," he told the dispatcher, according to the call record.

Four separate times, in different formulations, the dispatcher asked Rogers whether the victim needed help. Each time, Rogers replied "he is dead," getting progressively more agitated until he yelled into the phone "he is fucking dead!"

Actually, Garcia was still alive, writhing on the ground.

But Rogers was preoccupied with what he referred to as a "gang" that had begun gathering at the scene. "There are all kind of black people coming up here," Rogers told the dispatcher, who expressed concern for Rogers' safety and well-being.

Rogers was then "escorted" out of his vehicle by responding officers, according to reports. He was never cuffed or Mirandized and an officer described him as "cooperative" throughout.

Back at the Police Operations Center, a detective informed Rogers that Garcia had died from his injury at Memorial Hospital. The detective noted that Rogers "did not show any signs of remorse or guilt or any kind of emotion" upon hearing the news. That detective assured Rogers he was not under arrest and would be going home that night.

The case file reveals that Rogers initially claimed to not recognize Garcia, but later told investigators he knew him as one of the "bangers" who live in his neighborhood. They had clashed before, once in a nearby liquor store and several times on their block, where they lived across the street from each other.

Rogers viewed himself as a neighborhood watchman, telling cops "that word is out that he is armed and that he will take care of his neighborhood."

Neighbors corroborated that for investigators who followed up in the days after the shooting. One who spends time assisting Rogers around the house told a detective that Rogers is always carrying a firearm while surveying the street from his porch, sometimes in the early hours of morning. Investigators did recover multiple spiral notebooks of Rogers' that contain a detailed log of his neighbors' license plate numbers.

Neighbors offered varied descriptions of Rogers' character. One said he was "a religious person [who] lived by himself" and seemed "set in his ways." Another never knew him to be aggressive or racist. Yet another commented that he's a quiet guy and veteran who took no measures to conceal his racism. That neighbor told investigators that apparently another potential buyer of her home was a black couple — a fact she learned when, upon moving in, Rogers welcomed her and her husband by saying "he was glad the n*****s didn't move in."

Garcia's family members, who are black, describe an acrimonious relationship with their "neighborhood watchman," who, as call records show, called the cops on them often. (One of those calls yielded a police response, but no citations were issued.)

Apparently, there may have been clashes that went undocumented too. Garcia's cousin told police of a time he and Garcia had parked on their block and Rogers yelled, "move your car out of the street, n*****!" to them. His uncle told police that Rogers once followed him home from around Circle Drive and Platte Avenue, flipping him off the whole way, before goading him to come onto his lawn when they pulled up on their block.

"I didn't because I know the 'make my day' laws," he told investigators.

That uncle also reportedly asked the detective by phone why Rogers wasn't taken into custody after the shooting and how "this guy [is] not considered a threat to the community." The detective replied that "due to some facts we had to let him go," elaborating only slightly to say "there were some circumstances that only the police department and district attorney's office were aware of."

Rogers, too, expressed concern about the perception of injustice. In a voicemail to a detective, he asked for help, saying the situation would "escalate [into] a race war" because "the media [was] going to get a lynch mob up."

The case file also documents Garcia's mother, who lives in California, thanking the lead detective for his "due diligence" and "very comforting and parent like" tone. She said in an email that she had relayed some information to the rest of the family.

"I understand it doesn't paint Jess in a good light but the truth isn't always pretty," she wrote.

She added, "[Y]oungsters are showing less restraint when there are more guns on the street than ever before. It should be the other way around."

Garcia's mother, as his next of kin, requested the surveillance footage documenting her son's death not be shown to anybody.

Ultimately, the filing decision, dated July 28 and signed by a member of the district attorney's office, stated that "evidence currently indicates the defendant acted in self-defense." Hence, the offense heading the case report references "heat of passion" — a justification that the killer acted rashly under provocation that obscured his reasonable judgment.

As the Indy has reported, friends and family members of the late 23-year-old feel aggrieved by this decision. And, so far, these newly released details seem only to have stoked their outrage — organizers of the #JusticeForJesse campaign immediately scheduled a protest for Oct. 6 demanding the investigation be reopened.

"Judgment is based in the courtroom," said Trey Banks, a longtime friend of Garcia's and lead organizer of the protest. "Jack Rogers had a grudge against people of color and was able to express that hate freely without having to face the consequences. We are very troubled by the society we live in and highly disappointed in the police department and the district attorney."

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People State Conference Chair Rosemary Lytle also expressed dissatisfaction with the handling of the case.

"Why isn't that probable cause?" she asked, referring to the newly disclosed facts about the incident. "If their identities were reversed, I guarantee that what happened would've been radically different. You'd be hard pressed to find an example of a person of color suspected of doing what he did and first thing officers do is ask him if he's OK."

Lytle added, "If that had been a white person convulsing on the ground and a black guy who did it, it's almost impossible to imagine it playing out the same."

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