Killer of 4 granted supervised outings

Steven Stagner

A man who killed four people and wounded three others in a 2001 shooting spree in Rifle will be allowed to make supervised outings from a state mental hospital, but under some strict conditions.

Ninth Judicial District Court Judge Denise Lynch approved the outings this week in a ruling on a request by the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo in the case of Steven Michael Stagner.

Stagner went on the shooting spree late in the night of July 3 and early in the morning of July 4, 2001. All of the victims were strangers to him, and all were Latinos. He was sent to the hospital after being found not guilty by reason of insanity in 2002.

The 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and the family of one of those killed had opposed the hospital’s request. But hospital officials said the ability to expose Stagner to real-life situations through means such as going for hikes or to movies is necessary to help him further recover, and to avoid hopelessness that could cause his condition to worsen.

In her ruling, Lynch found that state statutes and case law provide little guidance for how to rule on requests for supervised outings.

“The Court’s overall concern has to be whether the community would be unsafe if he is allowed to go out in the public with a supervisor,” she wrote.

Lynch concluded that the risk to the community is low.

She wrote that the shootings, while horrific, occurred when Stagner had used alcohol, was off his medications and wasn’t receiving proper mental health treatment. Now, she wrote, he can’t access alcohol in the hospital and is subject to regular substance abuse testing, he receives intensive psychiatric treatment, his psychosis is stabilized and in remission through medication, and his early warning signs are monitored daily. He hasn’t had a violent episode since being hospitalized, and has never left the hospital’s unfenced grounds despite having unsupervised grounds privileges for six years.

“He will actually have more supervision with off-grounds supervised privileges than he has now,” Lynch said.

However, Lynch ordered that the off-ground privileges be subject to numerous conditions. Among them:

■ A supervisor must be within five feet of him at all times, rather than just within line of sight, absent a subsequent order of the court;

■ He isn’t allowed in areas where there are large numbers of Latinos;

■  He isn’t permitted to come to Garfield County, and particularly Rifle, except for court hearings;

■  His diary entries in which Stagner self-reports any early warning signs must be reviewed before each outing, and outings suspended until he stabilizes if he exhibits any such signs;

■  He is prohibited from overnight outings or outings involving more than 10 patients, and from going anywhere where he would have access to weapons.


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