Fruita officers cleared by DA in fatal shooting
A trio of Fruita police officers “had no choice” but to shoot a man when he pulled a handgun from behind his back and pointed it after commands to drop the weapon, Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said Wednesday.
Hautzinger formally cleared Fruita Sgt. Kevin Paquette and officers Andrew Courtney and Steve Lentz in the June 15 shooting death of 61-year-old Lewis Pollard in the front yard of his home at 159 Hollyberry Way.
It was the violent end to a possibly alcohol-fueled encounter in which Pollard fled from a police traffic stop after espousing anti-government, “sovereign-citizen” ideology while reasoning he “didn’t need” a driver’s license, the DA wrote in a letter to Fruita Police Chief Mark Angelo.
“I conclude that none of the officers involved did anything to unreasonably provoke or exacerbate the situation,” Hautzinger wrote. “Indeed, I believe their actions were exemplary and entirely consistent with reasonably protecting themselves and the people of this community.”
Failure to signal
Eleven spent cartridges were recovered from the scene of the shooting, all belonging to the Fruita officers, Hautzinger wrote. Five rounds struck Pollard, causing injuries described in an autopsy report by forensic pathologist Dr. Robert Kurtzman as “rapidly fatal.”
“There is no evidence of a close range fire on the skin of decedent around any of the gunshot wounds,” Kurtzman wrote in an autopsy report.
The autopsy showed Pollard was intoxicated and registered a blood-alcohol level of .126 percent. Pollard was drinking at a Fruita bar from approximately 8:30 p.m. on June 14 until around 12:20 a.m. on June 15.
Pollard’s Ford Ranger was stopped around 12:41 a.m. on June 15 at Highway 340 near Jurassic Avenue after Courtney observed several traffic violations, including a failure to signal lane changes and failure to stop at a stop sign, according to the DA’s letter.
Courtney encountered a man who “was quickly somewhat hostile and uncooperative.”
“He told Officer Courtney that he did not need a driver’s license, that he had committed no felony offenses and that Officer Courtney had no authority to detain him,” Hautzinger wrote.
Courtney called for backup, and the officer reportedly asked Pollard what authority he was willing to recognize.
“Mr. Pollard told Officer Courtney he ‘would recognize the authority of the Sheriff only when the Sheriff began to recognize the Constitution,’ ” the letter said.
A second officer pulled up to the scene. As Courtney conferred with the second officer, Pollard put his truck in gear and drove away. A pursuit wasn’t engaged, consistent with Fruita police policy, the letter said.
Those same officers reportedly observed the pickup drive just a short distance, before turning into the Redcliffs trailer park.
“Officer Courtney planned to locate an address where the vehicle was parked, which he could later use to obtain a warrant,” the letter said.
Hautzinger said they had probable cause to arrest Pollard on suspicion of vehicular eluding.
When the officers eventually found the truck involved at 159 Hollyberry Way, officers “heard someone yelling from inside the trailer and decided to attempt to contact the subject,” the DA’s letter said.
The officers’ approach on the trailer home was described this way: “All five ... saw a bedroom window on the south end that faced the driveway. The curtains were cracked enough that they could see a television was on and two people in the room. Officer Courtney stated the two people in this bedroom weren’t the people shouting. Officer Courtney heard dogs barking inside the fence at the south side of the mobile home. Sgt. Paquette knocked on the southwest corner of the trailer and one male came outside.”
Pollard appeared “very upset,” speaking and gesturing with only one hand, the DA said.
When Courtney moved to where he could see the right side of Pollard, he saw Pollard’s right arm was concealed behind his back and holding a gun.
“Officer Courtney drew his sidearm, pointed it at Pollard, and ordered him to drop the gun,” the letter said. “Mr. Pollard immediately brought his right arm out from behind his back with the gun in his right hand.”
The officer would later describe Pollard swinging his arm from behind his back in a “moon shape.”
Of the 11 rounds fired by the officers, six were from Courtney, two were fired by Paquette and three were fired by Lentz.
Pollard’s weapon — a .40-caliber handgun — was described in a ballistics report by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation as being in an “inoperable, unsafe condition.” Nine live cartridges were in the magazine.
“The manual safety had been damaged, preventing the slide from being pulled back and emptying the chamber,” the letter said.
CBI had to repair the gun’s safety mechanism in order to test fire the gun.
In an interview Wednesday, Hautzinger told The Daily Sentinel the events described in the letter were based on separate interviews by Mesa County sheriff’s investigators with five Fruita police officers at the scene, including the three officers who fired on Pollard. No lay witnesses interviewed in the investigation claimed they saw the shooting, Hautzinger said.
At the time of his death, Pollard had two outstanding arrest warrants for failing to appear in court on minor traffic violations in Mesa and Delta counties, Hautzinger said.
Angelo on Wednesday said the shooting is still being investigated internally for review of policies and procedures.
Two of the three officers, Courtney and Lentz, remain on paid administrative leave, he said. Paquette on Wednesday was placed on paid leave because of a family medical issue, Angelo said.