Flirting with trouble: Details of life of man accused of killing police officer begin to emerge — (Austin Statesman)

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Austin Statesman    statesman.com

Updated: 9:05 a.m. Monday, April 23, 2012 | Posted: 8:02 p.m. Saturday, April 21, 2012

Claudia Grisales and Tony Plohetski, AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

KEYE TV – Brandon Montgomery Daniel lived in this house in Parker, Colo., for a while when he was a teenager. The city is southeast of Denver.

Austin police arrest Brandon Montgomery Daniel at the Wal-Mart near Interstate 35 and Parmer Lane on April 6. Daniel has been charged in the shooting death of senior police officer Jaime Padron.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Soon after he started his freshman year at Colorado State University in the spring of 2007, a friendship blossomed between Weston Bickmore and his roommate.

Both Bickmore and Brandon Montgomery Daniel were from the Denver suburbs. They both owned motorcycles. They spent hours together lifting weights at the campus gym or playing video games in their 12th floor dorm room in Durward Hall.

But among all Bickmore’s memories, two stand out: how smart Daniel was and how he flirted with trouble.

“To be honest, I really hoped he would be able to go far,” Bickmore said in a phone interview with the American-Statesman last week.

Two weeks after investigators charged the 24-year-old Daniel in the fatal shooting of Austin senior police officer Jaime Padron, a fragmented picture is emerging of a man whom family and acquaintances describe as a once-promising software engineer but who also was amassing a lengthy arrest record for often minor crimes, newly obtained records show.

An American-Statesman review of dozens of pages of police reports in Colorado and Texas shows that Daniel had been arrested at least four times since 2007 and once skirted going to jail on a drunken driving charge by slipping information to police about a reputed dorm-room drug-dealer from whom he said he was purchasing Ecstasy, a street drug that often causes euphoria.

Records also show that Daniel engaged in a game of cat-and-mouse with police when they tried to stop him for speeding on his green Kawasaki motorcycle, and he hid from his pursuers in bushes and around corners.

In the hours before Padron’s death, Daniel told his roommate in Austin that “I run from the cops on my bike almost daily,” an arrest affidavit said.

Daniel’s mother, Mary O’Dell, the only family member who has spoken publicly since Padron’s death, told the newspaper in a 20-minute interview last week that her son is highly intelligent but was increasingly overcome in recent months from the stress of a breakup with his longtime girlfriend and adjusting to a new life in Austin. She said on the night of Padron’s death, her son had taken prescription anxiety medication and was not aware of his actions.

“He has absolutely no memory of it,” said O’Dell, who has visited her son in jail.

Asked why her son had a gun, she said: “Frankly, you are allowed to have a gun in this country. I don’t think anybody has to have an excuse or reason for that.”

Investigators would not say last week whether Daniel could legally carry a gun. According to Wal-Mart, customers who are licensed to have a gun generally may bring their weapons into the store as long as the guns are not visible.

Officials have said that Wal-Mart employees called police about an intoxicated person inside the store around 2:20 a.m. on April 6 and that when Padron arrived, he briefly struggled with Daniel before Daniel shot him in the neck.

Investigators have said two Wal-Mart employees tackled Daniel and pinned him to the floor until other officers arrived.

Padron died inside the store.

He was the first Austin officer to die in the line of duty in seven years — and the first to be shot by a suspect in more than a decade — in a crime that triggered an outpouring of community support for police.

Daniel remains in the Travis County Correctional Complex at Del Valle and is charged with capital murder in Padron’s death. His lawyer, Bill White, told the newspaper recently that his client “knows he has taken somebody else’s life” and is “sick beyond belief at the heartbreak he has caused.”

The many parts of his life are also a focus of the intense police investigation into what happened that night, said Austin police Cmdr. Julie O’Brien, who is supervising the case.

“One of the big points, the big aspects, of any investigation is to understand the motive, why the person did what they did,” she said. “Understanding a person’s background could be important to understanding the motive.”

An ‘excellent’ student

Daniel grew up in Parker, Colo., a town of about 45,500 people southeast of Denver. He has a younger sister, and both parents, who divorced about a decade ago, worked in the finance industry.

“We spent weekends camping, skiing and biking a lot,” O’Dell said.

Daniel’s father, Kenneth Daniel, could not be reached for comment.

Throughout his life, Daniel stood out for being smart, O’Dell said. He was talking by the time he was a year old. He was reading by 3. He taught himself to play the guitar at 12.

According to O’Dell, he combined the sixth and seventh grades. His high score on the American College Testing exam allowed him to combine his junior and senior years of high school.

“He was an excellent, academic student,” she said.

Yet corroborating information about Daniel’s past remains elusive. O’Dell declined to provide the names of former teachers or classmates, and efforts to reach many of those identified by other means were unsuccessful.

School officials in Douglas County said they could only confirm that Daniel attended public schools there beginning in the fourth grade and left Chaparral High School, a school of more than 2,000 students, in 2003 — his junior year.

At 18, Daniel attended the Colorado-based Arapahoe Community College in the fall of 2005, and a ticket he received for careless driving in 2006 said he was working as a cashier for Home Depot. It was otherwise unclear what he did immediately after high school.

In 2007, he enrolled in Colorado State University in Fort Collins, drawn by its computer science program, O’Dell said. He was one of 10 CSU students inducted two years later into the international college honor society Upsilon Pi Epsilon for computer science students in the top third of their class. Several students who became members with Daniel did not remember him or return phone calls or emails seeking comment.

But a computer science professor who taught Daniel remembered him as “a good student, a great student,” said professor Yashwant Malaiya, who said Daniel ranked in the top 10 percent of a class he taught in the late 2000s.

“He was very polite, and it was great to have him in class. He performed very well,” Malaiya said.

Run-ins with police

Daniel was a juvenile when he started compiling a police record. A spokeswoman for the Parker Police Department said officers encountered him as a youth, but state law prohibits the release of police records involving juveniles.

Vicki Wright, a neighbor on the street where Daniel spent much of his childhood, said in an interview last week at her home that she once called police after she saw Daniel, then about 16 years old, using a slingshot to shoot birds in her backyard and a BB gun to shoot squirrels.

By age 19, Daniel had been arrested as an adult. Colorado state troopers near Commerce City charged him in January 2007 with speeding, eluding a police officer, reckless driving and marijuana possession under an ounce, according to the Adams County sheriff’s office in Brighton. All but the speeding ticket were dismissed, said Krista Flannigan, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.

The next month brought two more run-ins with police.

According to a report from the Colorado State University Police Department, an officer on patrol noticed the smell of marijuana wafting from beneath the door of Daniel’s dorm room. A towel had been shoved under the door — often an effort to keep the scent from triggering attention from police or residence hall staff, the officer wrote.

“Daniel admitted to me that he had been the only one that was smoking marijuana in the room and that no one else was involved,” the officer wrote. “He also turned over his pipe and a small amount of marijuana.”

The officer wrote in the report that he reported the incident to campus housing officials but did not cite Daniel “due to his cooperation level.”

But Daniel was not as cooperative in an encounter with Fort Collins police about three weeks later on Feb. 26, 2007, records show. He was arrested and booked into the Larimer County Detention Center on charges of eluding police and speeding, among other violations, on his Kawasaki motorcycle.

A Fort Collins officer spotted him speeding on a city street and tried to pull Daniel over, a report said. Instead, Daniel outran the officer, who last saw the motorcycle speeding through a dorm parking lot, according to the report.

After a brief search, Daniel appeared from around a corner and tried to persuade the officer not to tow the motorcycle away, police reports said.

Police arrested him, and documents show he pleaded guilty and paid a $300 fine for eluding the officer; other charges were dismissed.

The next year, campus and Fort Collins police records show Daniel had at least five interactions with officers but no convictions or charges that remained.

They included two separate encounters in September 2008 that involved drugs.

According to a campus police report, dorm staff called police after smelling marijuana, and when officers arrived, Daniel handed officers a purple glass pipe and a small bag containing about a gram of marijuana. Officers ticketed Daniel.

A similar encounter led to another citation about three weeks later.

In March 2009, a drunken driving charge led to another arrest.

Much like the 2007 incident, Colorado State police records said an officer tried to stop Daniel on his motorcycle for speeding, but he fled. An officer found Daniel and the bike a short time later, and Daniel struck a deal with police: He offered to provide information about an alleged Ecstasy dealer in exchange for the charges being dropped.

“He said he has bought Ecstasy for approximately one month from (the dealer),” the report said. “He buys four to five pills at a time ranging from $7 a pill to $15 a pill. The most he had ever bought was 12 to 14 pills when (the dealer) was scheduled to be out of town. In total, Daniel has said he bought approximately 50 pills.”

A late night phone call

Daniel graduated from Colorado State in December 2010, the university said, and moved to Austin a few months later, taking a job as a software engineer for Hewlett-Packard. He was promoted a year later and was drawing a $70,000-a-year salary, his roommate in Austin and his lawyer have said.

But O’Dell said the move also began a turbulent time for her son. He and his girlfriend in Austin, who declined to comment, broke up in recent months, and he struggled to fit in at work, where many of his colleagues were older and had families, she said.

“It was rough down there,” his mother said. “It just spiraled down. I didn’t realize the depth of depression.”

She said her son sought comfort in playing video games inside the Parmer Lane apartment he shared with a roommate, Dante Davis, whom he met on Craigslist in January.

In Texas, Daniel also had begun adding to his arrest record in the months before Padron’s death.

A Texas Department of Public Safety trooper in late December stopped Daniel along Interstate 27 in Tulia — it was not clear why he was there — in a traffic stop that would land him in Swisher County Jail. Daniel was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession and booked and released by Dec. 28, said Swisher County Judge Harold Keeter. The case is pending.

Two months ago in Austin, police arrested and charged Daniel with drunken driving near Interstate 35 and Powell Lane.

An arrest affidavit in the case, which is pending in Travis County court, said he had glassy, watery eyes and a strong odor of alcohol. The officer also noted in his arrest report that it appeared that Daniel’s vehicle “was evading him” before he eventually pulled over.

On the night that police say Daniel fatally shot Padron, O’Dell said she talked with her son on the phone and that she knew from 1,000 miles away that something was wrong.

“He was very incoherent,” said O’Dell, who learned for the first time during the conversation that her son was taking Xanax. “I told him to play video games so he would fall asleep.”

The next morning, at 5:30 a.m., she said she typed an email. “I said, I’m going to make some plans to come see you. I hope you have a good day at work. Love you.”

“My heart and my stomach told me he was more depressed than he was letting on,” O’Dell said.

By then, Padron was dead, and police in Austin were interviewing Daniel and Davis, the roommate.

According to an arrest affidavit, Daniel told Davis in the hours before the shooting, “Dude, we should go hit a store.” Davis initially thought his roommate of three months was talking about getting some food. Then the realization set in — that Daniel was talking about robbing a store, the affidavit said.

Davis said he reminded Daniel of two recent criminal cases against him.

The affidavit said Daniel responded, “Dude, I’ve gotten away with worse … than that.”

Later that afternoon, O’Dell said she and her daughter tried reaching Daniel, but got no response. That night, an attorney who was representing Daniel on the February drunken driving charge called to tell her what had happened.

“My first thought was that my son had gotten on his motorbike and had a very serious accident or worse,” she said. “It just didn’t register. It just didn’t register for a few days at all.”

She quickly got on a plane to Austin. In the past two weeks, O’Dell said she has been working to enlist a team of lawyers to defend her son and visiting and talking with him as often as she can from behind bars.

O’Dell said of everything that happened that night, she is confident of at least two things: “My son was out of his mind. Period.”

And she also said he is sorry.