Kemps, state settle for $1 million
Troopers to get training on Fourth Amendment
The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado announced Monday it finalized a million-dollar settlement with the Colorado State Patrol, the last chapter in a federal wrongful-death lawsuit brought on behalf of the family of Jason Kemp, who was shot to death in his home in 2010.
But in the end, according to the settlement paperwork, the State Patrol says it did nothing wrong.
The terms of the settlement include more than $1 million to Kemp’s parents, Georgia residents Keith and Connie Kemp, while the agency will implement new training for current and future troopers. The training will emphasize the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment and its limited exceptions, as well as de-escalation tactics and the limits on permissible use of force, the ACLU said.
“ACLU lawyers were prepared to prove not only that state troopers violated the Constitution when they unjustifiably kicked in Jason Kemp’s front door and shot and killed him, but also that supervisors all the way up the chain of command were responsible for recklessly deficient training that was the ultimate cause of this needless and preventable death,” ACLU Denver legal director Mark Silverstein said in a statement.
On July 20, 2010, Troopers Kirk Firko and Ivan Lawyer were investigating a minor accident and suspected Kemp, 31, was responsible. They also suspected that he may have been driving under the influence of alcohol, close to his home at 103 Glade Park Road, Unit B. Troopers knocked on Kemp’s door and when Kemp told them to return with a warrant, they broke down Kemp’s front door with guns drawn. When the door gave way, Lawyer fired his weapon, killing the unarmed Kemp. Lawyer testified he thought Kemp may have been armed when Kemp raised his right hand quickly.
Lawyer was found not guilty April 19 on state criminal charges, while the jury hung on two counts that were eventually dropped. Charges against Firko were dismissed after the Lawyer verdict.
The State Patrol told the Sentinel on Sept. 25 that Lawyer and Firko were fired after an internal investigation.
ACLU staff attorney Rebecca Wallace said discovery in the civil lawsuit revealed “systemic problems” at the State Patrol.
“We uncovered compelling evidence that high-ranking supervisors had fostered a culture that encouraged the use of overly aggressive law enforcement tactics, even when those tactics posed a very real risk to public safety,” Wallace said.
The settlement calls for training on the Fourth Amendment — which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures — at the State Patrol’s academy in Golden, as well as on-the-job training on investigations that may lead troopers to a home, the ACLU statement said. It will have a specific focus on DUI investigations, the agency said.
“This training is to be reviewed and monitored by the ACLU,” reads the release.
Among the areas of focus the training will focus on, “the facts necessary to constitute hot pursuit, including that a suspected DUI that results in no personal injury does not justify warrantless entry” into a home, according to the settlement.
The training will also focus on “how to arrest or detain a barricaded subject without violating the Fourth Amendment and without jeopardizing the health and safety of officers, suspects and the public.”
Current troopers will get “in-service” classes by July 31, while new prospective troopers will start seeing it this month, according to the settlement.
“The proposed training modules shall be included in the basic academy curriculum beginning with class starting January 2013,” the deal reads.
While overhauling its training practices, the State Patrol, however, admitted no wrongdoing in Kemp’s death.
“The agreement is entered only for the purposes of avoiding litigation and does not constitute an admission of liability or evidence of any wrongdoing or omission of any kind,” the settlement reads.
The deal formalized Monday will be the second significant payout of taxpayer dollars in 17 months to settle a lawsuit stemming from a State Patrol investigation in Mesa County. Colorado in April 2011 paid $280,000 to a Collbran family to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit stemming from a high-speed pursuit along narrow roadways on Colorado Highway 65 in Plateau Canyon, which resulted in a crash that injured a mother and caused the death of her unborn child.
The U.S. Department of Justice has remained silent on its review of Kemp’s case. At the request of Kemp’s family in May 2012, Mesa County prosecutors forwarded records from the investigation to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver for consideration of a possible criminal civil rights investigation.
U.S Attorney’s spokesman Jeff Dorschner on Monday declined to comment on the review.