Police commander, hit with careless driving citation, retires 

Let it slide?

click to enlarge Now-retired Commander Rafael Cintron. - COURTESY CSPD
  • Courtesy CSPD
  • Now-retired Commander Rafael Cintron.
Colorado Springs Police Department officials dispute allegations that Commander Rafael Cintron received favorable treatment in December after he crashed his private vehicle, while on call, into a trash dumpster, and a witness claims to have smelled alcohol on his breath.

Cintron, 57, drove his 2015 Land Rover into the dumpster in the southwest part of the city at a speed fast enough that the vehicle’s rear end came off the ground on impact and the air bags deployed, the witness says. Cintron then jumped out of the car and began “yelling at everyone.”

The commander retired after 34 years while facing an internal investigation and receiving a citation for careless driving. The police report and body-worn camera footage aren’t being released because that would be “contrary to the public interest” pending Cintron’s March 9 court hearing.

When word leaked to the media of the incident, Police Chief Vince Niski issued a sharp internal rebuke, scolding officers for spreading “false narratives” that Cintron was drunk while on call and that the department tried to obscure the facts surrounding the crash.

“In no way did anyone at CSPD try to cover this up,” Niski wrote.

Based on a timeline provided by police, Cintron wasn’t evaluated for intoxication for nearly two hours after the crash, which one witness says he spent chugging water and visiting the restroom.

On a snowy night on Dec. 15, Cintron was driving down Thames Drive toward Broadmoor Bluffs Drive when he came upon two vehicles that had slid into the curb on snowy roads, with one partially blocking the street, according to a neighbor who witnessed Cintron’s crash while lending aid to the other drivers. The witness spoke on condition his name not be used in order to protect his privacy.

The citation said the crash occurred at 6:09 p.m.

The neighbor saw headlights coming down the hill, he says, but “never saw any brake lights light up.” Cintron’s vehicle attempted to zigzag between the other two vehicles, but lost control and struck a roll-off dumpster in the front yard next door, the witness says. “He hit it hard enough the back raised up,” he says. When the neighbor got to the vehicle, Cintron stepped out, and the neighbor saw the airbags had deployed. “The car was definitely totaled.”

Cintron, uninjured, was “pissed” and “yelling at everyone,” the witness says.

The neighbor says he told Cintron to calm down and invited him into his house on a cold night. Eventually, Cintron apologized for being angry and went into the neighbor’s house. “You could smell alcohol and Italian food,” the neighbor reports.

Cintron then began drinking glass after glass of water and used the bathroom at least five or six times, the neighbor says. “I’ll bet he drank two gallons of water in two hours,” the neighbor says.

According to the Colorado Springs Fire Department call report, Engine 16 responded from Station 16, a distance of about one mile, in six minutes and arrived at 6:18 p.m. The report says the crew found a vehicle had crashed into a 30-yard dumpster, which stands 6 feet high and is 8 feet by 22 feet, and that the driver “states he has not [sic] medical complaints and does not want evaluation.”

“Driver states he just wants to exchange insurance information with a second male party who he thought caused the accident due to sitting sideways across the roadway,” the fire report says, noting a second car was parked on the side of the road 100 feet down with no damage.

“E16 requested assistance of CSPD due to property damage and drivers of 2 said vehicles were argumentative towards one another,” the report said, noting the“slick roadway” with “many cars becoming stuck or sliding into scene.”

The neighbor says the dumpster slid into his neighbor’s mailbox, cracking the concrete base. Owner of the mailbox, Shawn MacDonald, couldn’t be reached for comment.

The citation, issued on Dec. 19, says, “The snowpacked roadway had other traffic which were experiencing difficulty driving on the roadway. Witnesses explained they observed Mr. Cintron traveling at a high rate of speed on Thames Dr. Mr. Cintron in an effort to avoid crashing [into the two vehicles] crashed into a ... dumpster. The dumpster moved and hit Mr. Macdonald’s mailbox damaging the box.”

click to enlarge A neighbor says a dumpster was forced into a mailbox. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • A neighbor says a dumpster was forced into a mailbox.

Cintron was serving as the staff duty officer that day, meaning he was the commander in charge of any major incident, such as an officer-involved shooting, and would be called upon to oversee the incident as well as brief the police chief and the District Attorney’s Office.

Facing a March 20 hearing in El Paso County court and an internal affairs investigation, Cintron recently retired. He most recently served as commander of the Metro Vice Narcotics and Intelligence Division, according to the CSPD website.

CSPD spokesperson Lt. Jim Sokolik tells the Indy the first officer to the scene arrived at 6:50 p.m. Based on a report at the scene that Cintron’s breath smelled of alcohol, Sokolik says, the officer called for a DUI officer, who was dispatched at 8:03 p.m. and arrived at 8:49 p.m. — nearly three hours after the crash occurred.

The DUI officer conducted a field sobriety test involving physical movements and found Cintron was not impaired, Sokolik says. There being no probable cause for a DUI arrest, Sokolik says the duty lieutenant notified the next higher ranking officer, Deputy Chief Adrian Vasquez, who came to the scene, arriving at 9:12 p.m., and instead of calling a family member of Cintron, drove Cintron home.

“We would do that with any citizen or officer,” Sokolik says.

Sokolik says consumption of water doesn’t lower a person’s intoxication level; rather, that occurs only through the passage of time, which allows the alcohol to dissipate in the blood.

The crash would have triggered an internal complaint investigation, Sokolik says, “but that would not go forward since he is retiring.” He asserted there was no link between the crash and his retirement, and adds, “There was no special treatment.”

The CSPD’s policy states that “all employees ... shall be subject to drug testing for reasonable cause,” which must be “based on objective facts obtained by the Department and the rational inferences that may be drawn from those facts.”

Similarly, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office’s policy states that the office may conduct breath, urine and/or blood tests of an employee if there is “reasonable suspicion” the employee is impaired by alcohol or drugs. Reasonable suspicion is“more than a hunch, but less than probable cause” and can be based on facts“that would lead the reasonable person to suspect that the individual is or has been using or is under the influence of drugs while on or off duty, or alcohol while on duty.”

Careless driving is a class 2 traffic misdemeanor and carries a penalty of 10 to 90 days in jail and a fine of $150 to $300 or both.

The incident has rankled some officers, who refused to speak on the record citing fears of retaliation.

Former CSPD officer John McFarland, who retired in 2016, worked the DUI beat from 2007 to 2010 and investigated thousands of DUI cases. While McFarland agrees drinking water doesn’t flush alcohol from the system, it could impact the outcome of a breath test, he says.

In any event, he says rules of the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, which processed DUI blood and breath evidence when he worked at the department, require collection of evidence within two hours.

“I’ve never seen someone [DUI suspect] hang around for three hours, and then they [police] come around and start testing,” he says. “It’s beyond preposterous.”

McFarland and others say they think Cintron got special treatment, because of his rank.

”I strongly believe in holding police officers, whether street cops or senior management, to the highest standards,” McFarland wrote in an email to friends that was shared with the Indy. “A cop who ‘departs from the truth’ (the oft-repeated euphemism for being a liar) deserves to be fired and criminally prosecuted. For this reason, I feel morally compelled to act. I cannot simply look the other way and sleep at night.”

In his memo to staff, Chief Niski described Cintron as “a stellar employee who kept the best interest of the community and the Department in mind year in and year out.” He also said he was disappointed his career would end on a sour note.

“... his well-deserved retirement, which should have been a moment of celebration, was marred with rumor, speculation, and disrespect by some in this department,” Niski wrote. “To say I am disappointed is an understatement.”

Niski said spreading rumors and gossip is “not acceptable behavior” and his memo serves as “an opportunity to pause, reassess, and realign your behavior with our department’s high standards.”

A Widefield High School grad, Cintron joined the department in 1985 and was promoted to commander in 2012. He didn’t respond to a request for comment through Sokolik.


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