FOUNTAIN, CO — Nearly two weeks after Fountain Police Officer Julian Becerra was laid to rest in a private ceremony, Fountain Police Chief Chris Heberer was finally ready to speak publicly about Officer Becerra’s loss.
I sat down with him to learn more about who his department, community, and Julian’s loved ones have had to part with.
Chief Heberer wanted to start by expressing his gratitude for the many gestures he’s seen since Officer Becerra was hospitalized.
“I just want to first thank the community for their support. Their thoughts, their prayers, their little acts of kindness, their food delivery, sending cards, quilts, pictures. That list could go on and on and on from the community and law enforcement support nationwide. But specifically to our people here, I just want to say thank you.”
While we have learned a little about the person Julian Becerra was as a person, Chief Heberer felt it was important that he publicly shared Julian’s story.
“I did want to tell Julian’s story from my perspective. I think that story needs to be told. We need to understand who Julian was. Julian moved with his family from Mexico out of poverty at 10 years old. They came to this country to make a better life and pursue the American dream. Julian served his country in the Air Force where he was introduced to policing and gained his love of working with dogs. When he got out of the Air Force, he chose to continue serving his community. Working for El Paso County in the jail where he was a great employee. It’s where he learned how to talk to people. A deputy sits on a floor with 100 inmates and they're not armed and it's really just them and their ability to talk to people and treat people the right way that keeps everything working smoothly and Julian does this to a high degree.”
During his time with Fountain Police, Chief Heberer says he had to work hard to get Julian into his office - even for a friendly conversation.
“There's a story I like to tell between me and Julian. Because of his time in the military - and I get it because I served in the military - but as a young airman he didn't he did not want to talk to people above him in the chain of command. That just wasn't Julian’s style. So, I think for many years that we worked together Julian would walk way around my office to prevent me from calling him in. I can't prove that beyond a reasonable doubt. But - he didn't want to get pulled into my office to talk about what I wanted to talk about. Because he just wanted to do his job and he wasn't flashy. He didn't want to come into my office and tell me about all the work he was doing. He was just out there doing it, every day. So, I had to try and outfox Julian and I had to try and schedule appointments with him. At first, I tried to schedule three-month appointments with him, and he said, ‘it's too much, too much chief. I'm too busy. I’m out there and I have a lot on my plate.’ so, we would agree to schedule six-month appointments, where he would come in and talk with me. And for four and half years Julian was the ultimate quiet professional. He came to work every day, he did his job, and he did policing the right way. He de-escalated, and he treated people with respect. You would never know Julian was working because he was out of the building all day - for his entire shift. He made dozens of contacts as a K-9 and a patrol officer, and I never in four and half years got a complaint or a use of force incident. I never had anything but praise for his work as a quiet professional. He served and protected his community, he did it with great distinction and with great integrity.”
After Julian's fall off that bridge in early February, began a stretch of days in the hospital with Julian in a medically induced coma surrounded by friends and family all facing an uncertain outcome. That’s when Chief Heberer tells me he began to see miraculous acts of kindness.
“I saw so many of our young police officers' wives supporting Julian's wife to a degree of maturity, grace, and compassion that I've rarely seen as a human being. They went 100% all in - at risk to themselves to support her during this worst possible scenario. They would come out into the main waiting room and I would see them cry, and then they would put their game face on and go back in there to be strong for her. And I just thought - who makes people such as these?”
During those 9 days, Chief Heberer says he also became close with Julian’s extended family.
“All those family members are outstanding, they're fantastic people, and they are people of faith. When I first met Julian's dad, at a point that I hadn't really done a lot of processing of my emotions and when I hugged him (Julian’s dad) he is a smaller man of smaller stature than I am, and his strength held me up in that moment. I hadn't really had any emotions or time to grieve yet, but seeing Julian's dad and the things he said to me - helped me. And how counterintuitive at that moment when I'm trying to support him, he's helping me. There were some days (in the hospital) I think we all believed. There was a lot of hope and a lot of prayers. Prayer is powerful, and prayer can do so many amazing things, but ultimately, that's not the way it was going to play out.”
When Julian wasn’t on the job, and Chief Heberer says, when he would see Julian in the community, he saw consistency.
“Every time I saw Julian off duty he was with his family. He was with his wife, his son, who’s seventeen months old, and his daughter who’s 8 and, he was always holding his son. That’s the picture in my mind is him with his family - always holding his son. Because that's what he learned from his family. And I saw it, a strong family core. That's what Julian exemplified as a man, as a father, and as a person who immigrated to this country and who was a protector of his community. He did that in the Air Force, and as a law enforcement officer. He was willing to put his life on the line, which ultimately he did to protect other people. That's what you do when you sign up for the military or this profession. You write a check on that day that says - up to and including my life - I will protect you. He knew that, like all of us, know that. I’ll just say this - I’m exceptionally proud of Julian, we call him JB. I'm proud of where he came from. I'm proud of the man he was. I'm proud of what he stood for. I'm proud of his family. I'm proud of his wife. I'm proud of his wife's family, I'm just proud of them.”
Chief Heberer has lost men before, during his time in the Army and he says as a man acquainted with grief, “The only thing I know about grief is it doesn't get any easier, no matter how many times you go through it. You don't get better at it. But the acts of kindness from the community, you know, meant something in the healing, and grieving process. They have been important to help us get through - those little acts of kindness, mercy, and grace. Everyone grieves in their own way and I was trying to be okay the day I came back into work and saw his patrol car in front of the Police Department, and it had flowers and pictures and messages on it. I was trying to be okay, but that got me because there's the community's heart coming out to support us. That's not lost on anybody.”
Chief Heberer also tells me he feels more than the events of that night contributed to Julian’s fall off the bridge that night.
“Ira, the laws in this state over the last five years have gotten more lenient and lenient, and easier and easier on criminals and those people that don't want to reform, and who will do crime again,” said Herber.
When I asked Chief Heberer if the people who led law enforcement onto the bridge that night should be held responsible for Julian’s death, he didn’t hesitate with his answer. “My personal opinion is they are responsible. The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office is going to pass that case to the District Attorney and my opinion is, those individuals should be held accountable for the loss of Julian's life. That's what I think is fair, that's what I think is right, that's what Julian's father asked me and begged me. He said, ‘Please make my son’s sacrifice count. Tell that story Chief.’ He asked me, ‘Why were they out of jail?’ I don't have an answer for him, and I told him that I will do everything in my power legally and lawfully to make sure his son gets justice. And I will pursue that to the best of my ability.”
I spoke with the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office this week and they tell me they are reviewing the investigation into the death of Officer Becerra that is currently being conducted by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, and when that investigation is complete, they will make their decision as to whether or not to charge those individuals with the death of Officer Becerra.
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