Colorado law enforcement officers prosecuted for killing people while on-duty

In the weeks after George Floyd’s murder, protesters in Denver demanded the prosecution and conviction of the Minneapolis officer responsible for his death as well as the prosecution of officers who kill people in Colorado.

On Tuesday, a Minnesota jury found the Minneapolis police officer guilty of murdering Floyd — a result Colorado leaders said was a small step toward improving police accountability.

But criminal charges against Colorado law enforcement officers who kill people while on-duty remain rare and convictions are even rarer.

There is no official historical database of officers who have been charged or convicted of on-duty killings, but a review of Denver Post archives from the past 10 years found at least five cases where officers were charged.

One Colorado officer has been convicted of killing someone while on duty in the last decade, though three law enforcement officers are currently facing charges in connection to killings.

Colorado law enforcement officers kill dozens of people every year and prosecutors find that the vast majority of those killings are legally justified. Law enforcement officers killed 44 people in Colorado last year, according to a database maintained by The Post. One officer was charged.

The most recent Colorado police officer to be convicted of killing someone is James Ashby, who was working as an officer in Rocky Ford when he fatally shot unarmed Jack Jacquez in the back in 2014. An Otero County jury convicted Ashby of second-degree murder in 2016 and he was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

At the time, he was the first Colorado officer to face murder charges since 1992.

Here’s a brief overview of the cases from the last decade in which Colorado law enforcement officers have faced charges in connection with on-duty killings:

  • Fifteenth Judicial District Attorney Josh Vogel in January charged former Kiowa County sheriff’s Deputy Quentin Stump with two counts of attempted second-degree murder and one count of assault with a deadly weapon for shooting and killing Zach Gifford in 2020.
  • Two Boulder County sheriff’s deputies, James O’Brien and Adam Lunn, face manslaughter charges in connection with the 2018 death of Demetrius Shankling, who died in the back of a transport van driven by the deputies. Their court cases remain open.
  • A Weld County grand jury in 2019 indicted Fort Lupton police Officer Zachary Helbig on a manslaughter charge for shooting and killing Shawn Billinger, who was unarmed and asked Helbig to kill him during the 2019 incident. A jury acquitted Helbig at trial in 2020 and the officer remained employed by the police department.
  • A Mesa County grand jury in 2010 indicted two Colorado State Patrol troopers, Ivan Lawyer and Kirk Firko, in connection with the fatal shooting of Jason Kemp, who was unarmed in his home. A trial jury later acquitted Lawyer, prompting prosecutors to drop the charges against Firko.

Prosecutors have declined to press charges against law enforcement in several high-profile killings — including the deaths of Elijah McClain in Aurora and Michael Marshall in Denver — despite demands from residents to do so.

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