Man shot by cops had ‘demons,’ father says
Alcohol and drugs were demons for a man shot and killed by law enforcement in Garfield County this week, and “he could never quite get a handle on his demons,” his father says.
Melvin “Skip” Fritze said his son, Brian, also had said he didn’t want to go back to prison. While Skip was not aware of his son ever having attempted suicide, he suggested his son’s last actions may have been a case of suicide-by-cop.
“Personally, I feel that he let the law enforcement people do the job he couldn’t do,” Skip said.
Fritze, 45, of Parachute, died from multiple gunshot wounds Tuesday after being fired upon by one or both Garfield sheriff deputies who were on the scene when he pulled off Interstate 70 interchange at Canyon Creek west of Glenwood Springs.
Fritze had led authorities on a chase on I-70 after a domestic violence call in the Parachute area in which he reportedly had beaten a woman in the face and on the head.
After stopping his vehicle at Canyon Creek, he had first pointed a handgun at his head, headed on foot toward the interstate with the gun, and then was shot, authorities said.
Authorities haven’t said whether Fritze fired his gun. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting, and the two deputies are on paid administrative leave while that investigation occurs. Sheriff’s spokesman Walt Stowe said the leave is not a disciplinary action.
Authorities haven’t released the deputies’ names.
Audio from the emergency dispatch traffic suggests a frantic and confusing situation for the deputies in the brief minutes after Fritze pulled over.
At one point, someone says over the radio, “It looks like we’ve got one in custody.”
But seconds later, someone clarifies, “Not one in custody. One at gunpoint.”
It’s not entirely clear in the audio whether one or more deputies is speaking. But almost immediately, a deputy shouts out, “Negative, not in custody, not in custody, he’s got a handgun, he’s running into traffic!”
Then, seconds later, “Shots fired, shots fired, suspect down!”
The audio also indicates that earlier, during the pursuit, a deputy said they would call off the late-afternoon chase if Fritze couldn’t be stopped using tack strips and had continued into South Canyon and Glenwood Springs.
“We’re not going to chase him through the canyon or into town at this time of day,” the deputy said.
Deputies had earlier responded to a Parachute-area home after a woman reported having been attacked, said Stowe. The woman said Fritze had shown up and the two had an argument, then he went out and got his gun, grabbed her and forced her into the house, knocked her into a door jam, got on top of her and started pummeling her with his fists.
Someone else heard the altercation and pulled Fritze off the woman, Fritze left, and authorities were called. Stowe said the woman’s face was covered with blood and some of her hair had been pulled out.
Stowe said the woman’s name is being withheld to protect her as a victim. He said the incident didn’t happen at Fritze’s home.
Deputies later began chasing Fritze after spotting his vehicle.
He got on Interstate 70 at the Rulison interchange and raced east at speeds of 95-100 mph before a tack strip deployed just east of New Castle eventually forced him to a stop.
Fritze had an extensive criminal record. He served time in Oklahoma for assault and battery and also was convicted there on grand larceny, drug possession and other charges.
After moving to Garfield County, he was arrested on multiple occasions starting in 2008 on suspicion of driving under the influence and other offenses. Parachute police arrested him Dec. 27 on suspicion of misdemeanor offenses related to domestic violence.
Skip Fritze was notified of his son’s death late Tuesday night when two police officers in Norman, Oklahoma, showed up at his door.
In a telephone interview and an e-mail, he spoke extensively of his son’s life and struggles.
“Brian made very poor choices, from (his) early teens. Alcohol and drugs were always there as his demons. He had his good drug-free periods and years. His family is thinking of the good memories of him these last few days,” Skip said.
He enjoyed playing soccer and football as a teen, Skip said. He spent his last two years of high school in Japan, where Skip was working through his job with the Federal Aviation Administration, and did well there.
SERVED IN FIRST GULF WAR
Brian spent four years in the Army and, after being sent to Germany, served in the first Gulf War in Iraq. During the multi-day ground war, he drove an armored carrier across the desert.
Skip said his son told him that if he and fellow soldiers ever had problems in front of them, they called in Apache helicopters that would take out the opposing forces.
He said his son came back from the war mentally OK, as far as he knew.
“He did well in the Army, perhaps because it was a structured environment,” his father said.
Brian’s struggles came in civilian life.
“We, as a family, tried hard to give him help,” Skip said.
When Brian was younger, the family got him set up with counselors and treatments. After his Army service, he had access to Veterans Affairs services “but would check in and not stay,” his father said.
“He ran the streets in the early 2000s, and the family never knew if he was alive or dead most days,” Skip said.
That culminated in his son’s time in prison. After he got out, he headed to Colorado to work concrete jobs and then got on as an apprentice driller with Helmerich & Payne.
He did “very well, making good money, and married his second wife, a lovely person. He soon worked into a consultant job,” Skip said.
He said Brian was drug-free for about five or six years. But he didn’t handle his money well because material things didn’t matter to him much, and he had a hard time handling adversity and marital problems.
“Our family suspected bipolar condition, never diagnosed, but we all thought he had this illness for a long time. When given meds, he would not stay on them,” Skip said.
Still, he described Brian as having been someone who was “always friendly and never knew a stranger.”
He helped the family of his wife over the past few years, and helped his mother in Oklahoma with expenses. Brian also had two children — a younger one with him in Colorado and an older one who is being raised by his first wife. Skip said his son was a good father who loved his children.
Skip said that during the last few months, things, “turned very sour with his wife, and he started to use again.”
“Talking to him on the phone several times, he was irrational and angry. I suggested he check in at the VA in Grand Junction and get some help, but he didn’t. His wife was being subject to difficult times and abuse. We are on good terms with her, and helping her.”
Skip said he believes that the “break from reality” his son was experiencing “was too much for him to overcome.”
“His last phone call was horribly irrational and made no sense,” Skip said. “The entire family here kept saying we loved him and told him we always would.
“… It’s a very human tragedy and our entire family grieves, but we all feel Brian has at last found some peace.”