Hi-Tech Sting Nets Innocent Couple
CENTENNIAL, Colo. (CBS4) – A series of mistakes by a south metro car dealership resulted in a retired couple from Centennial ending up in the middle of a high-risk police sting involving an electronic tracking device, pulled guns, handcuffs and a temporary arrest.
“I don’t want anyone to go through this, I don’t want anyone to go through this,” said Susan Hidalgo, 55, when interviewed about her and her husband’s unlikely arrest just blocks from their Centennial home last month.
Susan and Daniel Hidalgo had bought a $23,000, 1971 Corvette Sting Ray on June 26 from the Ed Bozarth car dealership in Lone Tree located at 8351 Parkway Drive. They took it for a drive to Evergreen that afternoon. But at about 9:30 p.m., as they were headed home, police from multiple departments pulled them over and ordered the 62-year-old grandfather and his wife to get out of the car.
“And that was when a thousand lights appeared and it looked like we were on a movie set,” said Daniel Hidalgo.
In police videos obtained by CBS4, officers can be seen removing the couple from the car at gunpoint in a “high-risk” traffic stop.
“Turn the car off now, put your hands out the window, don’t move!,” one officer can he heard shouting at the couple.
The video shows an intense felony stop with guns drawn, a police dog barking, and the couple being forced to kneel down in the street, handcuffed.
“Put your hands in the air,” urges an officer.
The confused couple complied, according to the videotapes.
Only later do they learn why they were targeted. According to police reports obtained by CBS4, the Bozarth dealership had “recently experienced a series of motor vehicle thefts and vehicle break-ins, and Ed Bozarth had partnered with law enforcement to place the trackers on select vehicles in an attempt to locate the responsible party(s) in the previous incidents.”
Police GPS trackers had been placed on a number of cars, so that if they were stolen, the cars could be followed and the car thieves apprehended. A sales manager at the car dealership told police “that they (the dealership) must have forgotten to notify us of the sale so that the tracker could be removed.”
So the Hidalgos unknowingly drove off the lot with the GPS tracker affixed to the Corvette.
“I was terrified from the screaming — that terrified me’, said Susan Hidalgo.
She said she thought police might accidentally shoot her husband, who had insurance paperwork in one hand and his cellphone in his other hand, which she worried could have been mistaken for a gun.
“My heart was beating out of my chest. I was crying before I got out of the car. I’ve never stolen anything in my life,” she said.
Later that night, a police investigator met with Bozarth sales manager Brian Ortiz. According to a police report, “Ortiz stated that they had been busy earlier in the afternoon and that he had forgotten about the tracker on the Stingray.”
After police had determined the Hidalgos had bought the car legally they were released, but have lingering anger about what happened.
“If you buy a car you don’t expect that to happen, it’s the furthest thing from your mind asking the dealer to remove a tracking device. How would I know they put a tracking device on?” said Daniel Hidalgo. “We’re ultimately upset with the dealer and how they handled it.”
The Hidalgos said the car dealership took the Corvette back and refunded their money, and also paid for the money they had spent on gasoline for the car.
Kent Bozarth, one of the owners of the car dealership, told CBS4 they would have no “public comment” on what occurred.
Lone Tree Police Chief Jeff Streeter called the situation “very unfortunate. They should be upset. It was a very unfortunate set of circumstances. The dealership didn’t hold up their end. They dropped the ball.”
Streeter said from his perspective, officers employed standard operating procedure for a high-risk stop of suspected car thieves.
“But the moons aligned and they were stacked against the Hidalgos,” he said.
Hours after the incident, police returned to the dealership and removed tracking devices from all other vehicles on the car lot.
Chief John Jackson of the Greenwood Village Police Department, whose officers were first on scene and pulled over the Hidalgos, said his agency was investigating what happened. He said he had no indication his officers did anything wrong and it appeared they had followed proper policy and procedure in executing the high-risk stop of a suspected stolen vehicle.