29 July 2015

An Unnecessary Police Homicide In Boulder, Colorado

Once again, law enforcement unjustifiably kills a suspect who was not obedient to them, and was rude as well, but did not pose a real threat.  Hundreds of such incidents have taken place so far this year.  British police have killed just 53 people in the last 155 years. Most European police departments, the Japanese police, and many other world police departments, have similar records of using deadly force extremely sparingly.

You would think that the heightened awareness that these incidents, whose frequency is mostly a result of greater media coverage and more widespread availability of video recordings to disprove police lies about these incidents (which remain common), would have lead to restraint by police officers nationwide.  But, if you thought that, you would be wrong.  These incidents just keep happening, even in places like Boulder, where the local governments are controlled by liberals and the police are used to dealing with unruly college students.

What does it take to bring about change?

The incident describe below happened at this balcony in the apartment building shown below.

[P]olice were called to an apartment at 1841 19th Street in Boulder at around 10:30 p.m. on a report of a man thought to be under the influence of LSD who was attacking others with a knife. Upon their arrival, officers found an injured party who was taken to the hospital and is expected to recover. . . . 
[The Boulder Daily Camera] reports that officers encountered [Sam] Forgy [a 22-year-old who was majoring in applied mathematics at CU Boulder] as they were climbing the stairwell to his apartment, on the second floor of the complex. He was nude and holding a hammer. The cops maintain that they repeatedly ordered Forgy to drop the hammer. 
Police feared Forgy was going to jump onto them with the hammer, the Daily Camera notes — so one officer tried to Tase him. When the Taser failed to fell Forgy, a second cop fired his gun, killing him. The number of shots hasn't been specified to date; witnesses estimate that there were between three and five. Moreover, one person who heard the exchange said the shooting of the gun and the Taser were close to simultaneous.
Via Westword citing a Boulder Camera story. An eye witness account of what happened in the Daily Camera story was less favorable to the police.  In that account, Forgy, who was also naked, was already unarmed when he was Tased and shot by the police:
[Nikki] Larsen said she and her husband witnessed the shooting from their deck about 75 yards away. She said they saw police officers run up the stairs before stopping and ordering the suspect to come out. 
"We just saw (officers) all running and heading up the stairwell, and they paused on the landing just before the top," Larsen said. Forgy "came out and was standing on the landing, and the officers said, 'Put the hammer down! Put the hammer down!' And he sort of squatted and put the hammer down." 
Larsen said she heard the suspect yell, "I'm so tired," then turn to his right and make what appeared to be a lunging motion. 
That's when Larsen said she heard what she believes was a Taser, then three gunshots.

Sam Forgy was killed when police shot him on Monday.

I understand that sometimes people point guns at or shoot police, or rush at them with knives, and that responding with a firearm may be their only choice.

It is very hard to conclude that a naked guy on drugs holding a hammer precariously standing alone on a fifteen foot high stairway balcony railing poses the same kind of threat.

Are the Boulder police incapable of backing off and trying to defuse the situation?

Do they not realize that a hammer is rarely a deadly weapon when wielded by a naked college student on drugs who can barely maintain his balance on a balcony railing if they stay several yard away from him?

Are they so unsure of their own physical prowess that they think that two of them, after all the training that they have received, fully clothed and armed with batons and mace are no match for a naked college student on drugs with a hammer?

I am very skeptical of the police claim that Forgy was armed with a hammer when he was Tased and shot when a publicly named, third party eye witness has given a contrary statement to the press.

The officer who fired this shot does not belong on a police force, anywhere.  His actions were at a minimum cowardly and proof of his incompetence.  Worse, they tend to show a deeply flawed culture in the force, that shoots first, and considers other options only after the suspect is dead. Arguably, this is really a case of simple unpremeditated, perhaps heat of passion, murder.

There is simply no version of the facts available to us in which this shooting was justified as self-defense or to carry out an arrest.

The Boulder Police Department should promptly fire the officer who killed Sam Forgy and then an independent individual should review the case to see if criminal charges should be brought. Rather than an independent individual, however, the key decisions in this case will be made by DA Stan Garnett and police Chief Greg Testa, both of whom have a long term strategic interest in siding with police who engaged in misconduct whenever possible.

The Boulder Police Department and other investigators know which officer fired the shot, but have not disclosed this information to the public and the press:
A spokeswoman for the city of Boulder told CBS4 the officer who fired his weapon has been with the Boulder Police Department since 2013 and is now on paid administrative leave while officials investigate, which is standard procedure.
Inexperience may have played a part, or this officer may have been a bad cop cycling from one department to another. This relevant information hasn't yet been disclosed, although it will almost inevitably come out at some point.

UPDATE (June 31, 2015): The police who fired the shot was identified as Dillon Garretson in today's Denver Post.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much. i love that guy

Anonymous said...

nobody else is saying this it's so true

Becca Nation said...

Exactly this! Thank you!

Laurie Klemme said...

I agree. I read an account that he said he was tired, dropped the hammer and they shot him. An incident that would have resulted in some plastic surgery for one kid and never another drug experiment for Sam Forgy or his friends, has ended like this. WHY? because someone with a gun (and a badge) felt threatened by someone with neither, in fact without even pants on.

Anonymous said...

I am truly sorry for the life lost here, its always a tragedy when some has to die in such an unnecessary way. But we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the officers, you get a call of a man on drugs who just stabbed someone with a knife and you need to respond immediately. And for the record a person without clothes isn't any less dangerous than a clothed person, naked people have killed before. And when someone who is on drugs and is naked, it indicates to officers that they are dealing with someone who isn't reasoning properly and not living in reality at the moment and can't comprehend their situation, thus making the situation even more dangerous. Its good to hear that at least they attempted going less lethal, the taser, before falling back on a more lethal mean. Unfortunately tasters are not very accurate, especially in a situation when the officer is probably shaking and doesn't have the luxury of time to get a good aim on the person. The only reason a person jumps at another person with a hammer after they gave already attacked someone is to attack again. Imagine if you were approached by a naked man with a hammer, wouldn't you feel threatened? And if you knew that person just stabbed someone else and now they are trying to lunge at you, your life is most certainly in danger. They aren't lunging at you with a hammer to give you a back rub. If you people are so upset then remove the police, and let drug crazed individuals run free and stab and kill anyone they want without anyone stopping them. Im sorry if Sam was any of your friends, its really sad and breaks my heart that such a smart kid was killed, but the situation developed they way it did and the officers had every right to defend themselves. Im sure if he didn't take LSD he would have never imagined hurting anyone, don't get mad at law enforcement for doing their job, I guarantee the officers did not want to have to take someones life and this incident will effect them the rest of their lives. Blame the bad drugs that made this smart, talented man do something that cost him his life.

Anonymous said...

^agreed. I want to see how many people would willing confront a naked man on drugs with hammer who just stabbed someone, anyone? Im glad I live in a society where cops run to the danger and put their lives in harms way, often paying the ultimate sacrifice. Sure there are bad cops and sometimes they make bad decisions and unjustifiably harm and/or take someones life, and they need to be prosecuted to fullest extent of the law. But blaming every shooting on bad cops and how every cop is bad is ignorant, wrong and plainly and uneducated statement. If you don't like our criminal justice system, move to another country, like Iran, where drug users are publicly hanged. Police shootings are horrible, I personally know a cop who shot and killed a man who kidnapped and raped his girlfriends daughter, then pulled a gun on the officer trying to arrest him. That officer said he thinks about that every day and how he had PTSD for many years. No officer wants to take the lives of the people they are sworn to protect. Its sad and truly tragic this situation happened, but blaming law enforcement won't help.

Laurie Klemme said...

It is not law enforcement's job to issue the death penalty without due process. To defend themselves or the lives of others, such force is warranted. That is, by eye witness accounts, not what happened here. Furthermore, cops on and around universities should be able to handle the culture of young people who do ill-advised things like experiment with drugs. This means THESE pOlice ought to have used strategies that do not involve killing someone. The "anonymous" apologist-commenter above ought to have the decency to post their name, or shut up.

strongmom11 said...

This boy is someone's son. He did not deserve death. Shame on anyone who thinks there was anything justifiable about this.

Anonymous said...

And those officers are someone's son, father, spouse and brother. That's why this is a tradegy, it's horrible when anyone has to loose their life. But if you don't want to be shot, don't run at the cops with a deadly weapon after you stabbed someone- pretty simple concept. if you don't have any past in law enforcement, don't know police tactics and laws, then don't arm chair quarterback the situation and say what the officers should or shouldn't have done. It's easy for people to make judgements when you aren't involved in the situation and don't understand anything about police training. And yes officers are trained to deal with people who are on drugs, but it's impossible to use that training or talk anyone down when they lunge at you with a deadly weapon before you even get the chance to use that training.

Laurie Klemme said...

Use your name or shut up.

Anonymous said...

I can use whatever name I want

andrew said...

Moderation note: Several comments were deleted for the sole reason that they were accidental duplicate posts of the same comment by the same person.

andrew said...

First, given the facts of this case (and incidentally, it was determined that the Taser didn't work, not because he was on drugs, but because one of the prongs missed him), there should be no doubt that in this particular case, the cops screwed up and shot someone when backing off would have been the better tactic.

Second, there are certainly cases where police use of force is justified or at least is a closer call than this one. No all police use of force is wrong, but a significant share of it against relatively harmless suspects is wrong.

Third, as a lawyer who used to defend police officers in civil rights suits at a previous job, I am well acquainted with the relevant law, even though I have advocated for some reforms of that law.

Fourth, police misconduct ultimately an issue upon which the general public, in juries, decides who is right and wrong and that is entirely appropriate in a democracy. There is nothing wrong or improper about the public judging the conduct of its employees charged with protecting their interests.

Fifth, if there is some issue of police tactics upon which the general public doesn't know enough that pertains to this situation, by all means, point us to a source of authority for that. I strongly suspect that police trainers would have told trainees that this was a situation in which backing off was the right choice and that this cop screwed up in this case.

Sixth, it doesn't necessarily follow that the murder prosecution is the right sanction for a police officer whose mistakes cause a death. Honestly, a lot of these cases have culpability more along the lines of the criminal negligence that is necessary to sustain a criminally negligent homicide or vehicular homicide conviction, but not the culpability that justifies a manslaughter or murder conviction. Other cases involve non-criminal negligence that might justify termination of a job, or serious discipline, but not a criminal prosecution. But, all too often, officers are only fired after they are indicted, and all too often, in Denver anyway as the headlines today illustrated, firings are reduced by excessively police protective civil service protections. Public safety needs to be a higher priority than police job security.

Seventh, there is very strong evidence in this case that when the officer said that he fire a shot after the suspect was lunging at him with a deadly weapon and the Taser had failed that he was lying. Multiple independent witnesses said that the Taser use and the shots fired were almost simultaneous, and at least one independent witness said that the hammer (which was probably not a deadly weapon in this context) was put down before the suspect moved towards the officer.

Eighth, the law allows the used of deadly for to stop serious injury or death, and the notion that the officer was facing serious injury or death, as opposed to a few cuts and bruises if he hadn't shot the suspect is very doubtful in this case.

Anonymous said...

Then as a lawyer I hope you understand my main argument that people often jump to conclusions quickly in cases like this and blame the cops right off. The investigators and the DA know more about this case and other evidence involved then we do at this time, so starting to scream murder at the cops is doing so quickly and unfairly. My main problem is people like to blame cops and who don't understand the officers point of view. Let the case unravel and see what the DA says when they go public with the evidence they have. If the officers weren't justified in their use of force, then by all means prosecute them. But saying they need to be prosecuted based solely off media accounts of what witnesses say is not the smartest. And going off police tactics, you can't really back off when someone is charging or lunging at you, you dont want to turn your back and run. Lunging at an officer indicates aggression and a hammer will do more than a few cuts and bruises, a grown man swinging a hammer at your head can be just as lethal as anything else. It's easy for everyone to arm chair quarterback this and say they should have done this or that, they responded how they get necessary in the few seconds they had. And tasers are accurate at close range at a still target, even then it's not the cops fault one prong didn't hit, tasers are hard to be accurate with. Also CRS 18-1-704 1: "a person is justified in using physical force upon another person in order to defend himself or a third party from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by that other person." Then 2A goes into more detail more on that. From my point of view, a man lunging at you with a hammer would meet this qualification to use force to defend themselves. We just need to wait and see what the DA decides and what other evidence they have before jumping the gun and automatically blaming the cops.

Laurie Klemme said...

Andrew, thank you so much for go I g to the trouble to respond to every point made in this thread, and for doing so clearly. "ANONYMOUS" was unable to process all the information, but with a name like that, he doesn't have to.

And this kid is still dead. because a policeman shot him when it was not necessary. How horrible.

Anonymous said...

Seems like you are more upset at my choice not to name myself than the issue at hand, and if you were to process what I said you would realize two things: yes it's absolutely horrible the young man was killed, it's a tradegy and very very sad for his friends and family, i can't imagine what they are going through. And the other thing I am saying, is once again let the investigation run its course before we start pointing fingers, assigning blame and getting all worked up, that gets us nowhere, as history has shown- example: ferguson.

andrew said...

"Then as a lawyer I hope you understand my main argument that people often jump to conclusions quickly in cases like this and blame the cops right off. The investigators and the DA know more about this case and other evidence involved then we do at this time, so starting to scream murder at the cops is doing so quickly and unfairly."

This claim is mostly B.S.

Most police shootings are very simple events (the same by the way, is true of most crimes). We are talking about what happened over the course of less than five minutes in a single well defined place involving one victim of the suspect, one suspect, two cops, about four witnesses (two of whom heard it and the other two of whom saw it), and one relevant communication between the dispatcher and the cops a few minutes earlier. The scene is visible in the photographs. It is not premature to make judgments based upon the information we have available from media reports in such a simple scenario. Everything else is red tape and politically driven indecision.

It is possible to have very complex situations that are hard to figure out, but this is not one of them - particularly because what was observed to be the case by the people at the scene and what they were told matters more than the truth under the relevant law. It is irrelevant, for example, whether the suspect was actually on LSD, or whether the victim's injury was actually caused by the suspect, if the officers believed that this was so. What matters is his actual conduct in the presence of the officers and perhaps the police perception that he was on LSD.

Delaying judgment is just a way to try to make a simple screw up look more complicated than it really is. And, the ultimate question of the reasonableness is one entrusted to the members of the general public on a jury without further legal definition.

As far as charging or lunging, good police training would urge cops not to rush up the stairs towards the guy in the first place and to instead wait him out, particularly if he doesn't have a gun. Forcing the issue and getting too close when there was no one in immediate peril of becoming a new victim and the suspect was acting erratically was an adrenaline driven newbie screw up and indicates serious training problems on the force.

andrew said...

CRS 18-1-704(1) relating to the use of "physical force" in self-defense to which you cite is also not the relevant provision. That applies to mere physical force, not "deadly physical force".

The use of deadly physical force like a gun in self-defense is governed by CRS 18-1-704(2) and states (in the potentially relevant parts) that:

"Deadly physical force may be used only if a person reasonably believes a less degree of force is inadequate and: (a) The actor has reasonable ground to believe, an does believe, that he or another person is in imminent danger of being killed or of receiving great bodily injury; or (b) the other person is using or reasonably appears to be about to use physical force against the occupant or a dwelling or building establishment while committing or attempting to commit burglary."

But, this is not actually the applicable section in any case. This situation is governed by CRS 18-1-707(2) which governs when deadly force may be used by a police officer in order to arrest that person.

This is justified (in the pertinent parts) "(a) to defend himself or a third person from what he believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force; or (b) to effect an arrest or to prevent the escape from custody, of a person whom he reasonably believes: (I) has committed or attempted to commit a felony involving the use or threatened use of a deadly weapon; or (II) its attempting to escape by use of a deadly weapon, or (III) otherwise indicates, except through a motor vehicle violation, that he is likely to endanger human life or to inflict serious bodily injury on another unless apprehended without delay." This is further subject to the limitation of CRS 18-1-707(1) that the use of force must be "reasonable and appropriate" and may be used only "to the extent that he reasonably believes it necessary".

The bottom line in that analysis is whether it was really reasonable under the circumstances to think that he needed to be shot immediately in order to effect an arrest.

The Colorado statutory provision is also subject to a gloss of case law under the Colorado and federal constitutions which establish further limitations. For instance, the case law provides that a police officer is never justified in resorting to dangerous means when the arrest could be effected otherwise.

Once you determine the relevant question of law in this very simple set of facts, it is up to the judgment of members of the general public using their every day experiences to make a judgment about what is reasonable.

[To be clear, the standard of civil liability for the use of deadly force by a police officer involves a somewhat different standard than the one articulated above, particularly with regard to intent and the importance of existing constitutional case law.]

Laurie Klemme said...

Thank you for offering something so thoroughly reasoned and clearly stated,

Anonymous said...

Andrew, which why I believe the officer was justified, based off the media reports I have seen, which is not always the most accurate. The taser, the lesser degree of force, failed to stop the subject. A hammer can inflict serious bodily injury and/or death.He already committed a felony by stabbing someone, also kinda hard to cuff someone as they are lunging at you with a hammer. But that's my interpretation. All i have been trying to say, let the DA make a decision and present all the evidence before we start making quick conclusions based off what the Denver post reports. It's easy to automatically assign blame to the cops. And it's also very very possible the officer violated only agency policy, which will be dealt with if true.

Fuzzy Klein said...

Any police officer anywhere who lacks the intestinal fortitude and hand-to-hand combat training necessary to take a hammer away from a naked crazy person and cart them off to the emergency room for immediate treatment should just walk away from any such situation, resign from their job, and go be a telemarketer or some other safe job where they can't possibly get hurt. I can't believe we're trusting incompetent cowards with guns, giving them minimal training, and expecting good results when they are turned loose on the streets to "protect and serve" the public. They don't stay in shape, they don't continue their training, they sit around at Denny's eating doughnuts and pancakes all fucking day and they don't give a shit because they know that if their job ever requires them to perform any actual physical activity (like taking a hammer away from a naked crazy person for instance) all they really have to do is pull their gun and shoot the crazy person.

Just don't call the cops when someone goes crazy for whatever reason, people. They obviously don't know what they're doing and someone will likely get killed. Just don't even dial 911 any more. Call the Emergency Room of your local hospital by its own phone number and have them send an ambulance. Call the fucking Fire Department since THEY generally know how to do their job. Unless Sam was living in a neighborhood with no fire hydrants in it I'm pretty sure they could have hosed him down for a while and he would have given up the fight.

Fuzzy Klein said...

"A gun is a coward's weapon. A liar's weapon. We kill too often because we've made it easy... too easy... sparing ourselves the mess and the work." -- Batman

Jann Scott Live said...

I don't know why I have to write such a letter to you.
As a journalist and investigator I can find absolutely no reason why the second boulder police officer shot Sam Forgy.
1. The officers were not in danger
2. They shot simultaneously stun gun and weapon.
3. The officers were young, inexperienced and they panicked
4. I don't know why all these officers are carrying guns to begin with. They almost never need them in Boulder.
5. I worked in England for three years and the police never had guns. they never needed guns. and they never killed anybody. they had special units that were called in if there was someone with a gun. they arrived on the scene pretty rapidly

6. The British police are well trained the tactical units are especially well trained.
7. In Boulder we have given every yeah who a gun and then train them to shoot to kill. this is terrible.
8. They have no crises training.
9. I live in Key West in the winter sometimes and work there and do my radio show or TV show from there. I have gotten to know the police department the mayor's office and the City Council very well in Key West Florida.
10. Key West hires only seasoned police officers from NYC who are highly trained and skilled. their primary charge is to not shoot tourists. Dont Shoot the turists. If the tourists are drunk and out of control the Key West police dept usually escort them back to their hotel and try to get them some help or they may go to detox. Did you know there are almost no DUIs given out in Key West? but police never shoot people!! to end violent encounters they use tactics to subdue the person but they never f****** shoot him Jesus !
you must address this.
11. The police department needs to be revamped the officers who shot this poor boy need to be fired immediately if not charged and prosecuted .there probably needs to be an investigation and a grand jury.
12. 5 years ago they shot a disabled man in the emergency room because he said his oxygen tank in his wheelchair was a bomb! they shot him with a sniper
unbelievable this is the same situation they did not have to do it. then they didn't have to shoot Sam Forgy. you must change this police department and take their guns away.

13. You cannot let them get away with murder
they cannot be allowed to murder college students. Some of them must be fired there needs to be a major shakeup in that police department and the same damn thing goes for the CU and Sheriff's Department .
do not let this slide .
take on the cops if you let them get away with this they will kill more people
14. There is already backlash on this from Copwatch and other organizations.
15. You are smart people you know how to do the right thing just do the right thing take the guns away from the cops let's make sure we have some specially form teams and put an end to this shooting students in deed.

andrew said...

The DA declined to press charges, he announced today is a statement that fully adopted the officer's version of the story and disregarded all other evidence to the contrary.