FORT COLLINS, CO – On the evening of February 6th, an 18-year-old girl was reportedly killed in what police described as a domestic violence incident, which the victim’s ex-boyfriend and another individual have been arrested in connection with the young girl’s death.
Police allege that it was the ex-boyfriend that committed the murder, and that there was a male accomplice that attempted to mislead investigators on details about the incident.
R.I.P. Danielle Hopton 18 year old
Colorado Teen Who Volunteered at Animal Shelter Is Beaten to Death in Parking Lot: 'Heinous Act' 😢 https://t.co/yNGkekbspv
— RIPBeccaAnnSedwick (@RIPBeccaAnnSedw) February 16, 2021
Fort Collins Police were said to have received a 911 call on the evening of February 6th about an unconscious, injured woman in the parking lot of 525 East Drake Road.
When police arrived, they’d located 18-year-old Danielle Hopton – who had reportedly suffered, “life-threatening injuries consistent with an assault.”
Hopton was reportedly rushed to a nearby hospital, where she later succumbed to her injuries.
Authorities eventually honed in on 20-year-old Stephen McNeil as being the prime suspect in the young girl’s killing, which McNeil and the victim were at one point romantically involved before her death.
It was discovered that McNeil had an arrest record dating back just two months prior to Hopton’s death, with the suspect having been previously arrested for felony assault involving strangulation in December of 2020 and also a January 2021 arrest for criminal mischief.
McNeil was said to have bonded out of jail on January 22nd with respect to his January arrest and charges.
During the course of the investigation, authorities reportedly learned that Hopton was among a group of friends on the evening of her death, including McNeil, and the group had decided to hang out at the apartment complex located on East Drake Road where she would later be discovered by police after the 911 call.
According to a press release from authorities regarding the case, McNeil allegedly delivered the fatal assault sometime after the group Hopton was with arrived at the apartment complex:
“Hopton and McNeil got out of the vehicle to talk and the assault occurred. McNeil left the scene, and a member of the group called 911.”
At around noon on February 7th, police had located McNeil and placed him under arrest on charges of first-degree murder, domestic violence, violation of a protection order, and violation of bail bond conditions.
It was through further investigating that police also arrested another individual in this case, which the suspect was identified as 20-year-old Ian Rayas.
According to police officials, Rayas allegedly tried to mislead investigators by claiming to have not known about what happened when Hopton was reportedly killed.
Apparently, Rayas was alleged to have been among the group of friends that included Hopton and McNeil on the night of Hopton’s death. He has since been booked into the Larimer County Jail on felony charges of attempting to influence a public servant and accessory to a crime.
Hopton had just graduated high school in 2020 and was described as a longtime animal lover who would spend her free time working at a local animal shelter. She would also help her father in raising service dogs to assist the blind.
Fort Collins Police Investigations Lieutenant Jeremy Yonce delivered the following remarks with regard to this senseless loss of life:
“Our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of the victim. This heinous act of violence took a woman’s life and forever changed the lives of her loved ones. We will continue working diligently to support her family and seek justice.”
— NEZME TAJA (@NezmeTaja) February 16, 2021
In a GoFundMe account established to honor Hopton’s life, she was said to be, “always smiling and laughing, she was always asking how you are doing and just genuinely cared about others.”
The purpose of the fundraiser is to help the sorts of organizations that Hopton admired, which were identified as, “Guide Dogs for the Blind, Larimer Animal Shelter, and Crossroads Safehouse. This is what Danielle would’ve wanted.”
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In other news related to Colorado, there’s been a developing issue with relation to allegedly impaired drivers getting off the proverbial hook due to what has been coined as a loophole in drunk driving cases in the era of the pandemic.
Here’s the recent report from earlier in February.
DENVER, CO – It appears that due to the ongoing pandemic, there has been a sort of de facto loophole inadvertently created that is seeing alleged drunk driving cases getting dismissed in the courts in Colorado.
And the reason being has to do with the manner in which field sobriety tests are being administered – or rather, not administered.
Collateral impact of #COVID19 – some Colo. police departments(@jeffcosheriffco @AuroraPD @CSPDPIO @DenverPolice ) refuse to give breath test to DUI suspects, even though @CDPHE says its safe,
leading to dismissal of some cases. @CBSDenver Investigation:https://t.co/j8IMEQ5qqE
— Brian Maass (@Briancbs4) February 8, 2021
Most everyone knows what the run of the mill field sobriety test looks like: an amalgamation of tests related to balance, multitasking and the ilk.
But there’s also one crucial piece of evidence that helps solidify every alleged case of driving under the influence: the field breathalyzer test.
And the Denver Police Department, reportedly among others in the state of Colorado, have stopped administering field breathalyzer tests. The reason being is due to concerns of creating transmission risks during the pandemic.
DPD Chief Paul Pazen commented on that aspect, saying:
“It’s important we have accountability for people who choose to drive while impaired as well as [making sure] we’re not unnecessarily or unduly spreading COVID-19.”
— PulpNews Crime (@PulpNews) February 8, 2021
And as a result of these practices, some cases have been getting dismissed recently in the courts, essentially due to officers refusing to offer suspected DUI drivers a field breathalyzer test.
Jay Tiftickjian, a defense attorney in Denver who handles DUI cases, commented on this situational dilemma:
“Police officers have to do their jobs according to the law and when they don’t, cases get thrown out… Drivers who may be under the influence or impaired will get off on this issue.”
According to state law, police are supposed to offer suspected DUI drivers one of two means of documenting their BAC: either via a breathalyzer or a blood test. However, under “extraordinary circumstances”, certain forms of administering the field sobriety tests can be declined.
The Denver Police, Aurora Police, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado Springs Police Department have all collectively determined that COVID-19 and the potential of spreading it would fall under an “extraordinary” circumstance.
But that appointed classification by the aforementioned law enforcement agencies is in contrast with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which has deemed that administering a breathalyzer test during the pandemic is safe.
— Arrested For DUI February 16 2021 (@DUI_Arrests) February 8, 2021
A case that was recently dismissed in January exemplified the caveats of this juxtaposed position on administering breathalyzers during the ongoing pandemic.
Charles Fife explained the January case where his client was told he had to submit a blood test when he asked for a field breathalyzer:
“Without being offered a breath test, my client still demanded a breath test. [The Officer] refused to give client his breath test – which is his right, guaranteed under the statute. At the motions hearing the prosecutor argued COVID fell into the classification of ‘extraordinary circumstances.’ The Judge disagreed.”
A similar situation happened during a December 2020 administrative hearing involving a woman suspected of a DUI back in October.
This woman’s driver’s license was on the line during this hearing, but the hearing officer in that case dismissed the matter, noting that concerns over the pandemic are not, “extraordinary circumstances which prevented the completion of a breath test.”
Jeff Groff, who reportedly oversees breathalyzer testing for the state department, notes that his agency cannot compel any law enforcement agency to administer breathalyzers, but he wants to point out there’s no data suggesting they’re unsafe to administer:
“There’s nothing out there… I have no reason not to believe it’s not safe. So I think that performing a breath test on these instruments is no more risky than going to 7-Eleven and using your ATM card and the Pin pad.”
Groff says that so long as officers are wearing PPE while administering a breathalyzer, maintain social distancing, and are not sharing a confined space with someone using a breathalyzer – then they should be fine.
There are still several other law enforcement agencies in Colorado haven’t stopped administering the breathalyzer test, according to reports.
While it seems the aforementioned law enforcement agencies are sticking by their proverbial guns on this matter, local attorneys believe that this debacle will likely find it’s way into the courts to determine what police departments can do moving forward.
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