Trooper acquitted in man’s death

Ivan “Gene” Lawyer, a Colorado State Patrol trooper, is found not guilty in this April 19 file photo in Mesa County District Court of criminally negligent homicide and three other counts relating to the July 2010 shooting death of Jason Kemp. The jury deadlocked on two other charges.

Mesa County DA Pete Hautzinger after the reading of the verdict in the trial CSP office Ivan “Gene” Lawyer at the Mesa County Justice Center in Grand Junction.

CSP Trooper Gene Lawyer after the reading of the verdict at the Mesa County Justice Center.



Mesa County prosecutors have 90 days after May 3 in which to retry the deadlocked counts from the trial of Colorado State Patrol Trooper Ivan “Gene” Lawyer, or they may dismiss the charges: second-degree assault, a Class 4 felony; and illegal discharge of a firearm, a Class 5 felony.

District Attorney Pete Hautzinger did not indicate Thursday if he will retry on the two charges.

Meanwhile, the trial of State Patrol Cpl. Kirk Firko is slated to start July 16.

It was over and it wasn’t.

“Hmm ... ” said Keith Kemp, father of slain Jason Kemp. The elder Kemp gave a long sigh and picked his words carefully, sitting on a courtroom bench after verdicts were read.

“You just keep plugging away,” he said.

A nine-woman, three-man jury about 3 p.m. Thursday, sitting in judgment of Colorado State Patrol trooper Ivan “Gene” Lawyer, returned verdicts of not guilty on four counts relating to Jason Kemp’s shooting death on July 20, 2010.

Lawyer was acquitted on criminally negligent homicide, first-degree criminal trespass and misdemeanor counts of prohibited use of a weapon and criminal mischief.

Jurors were deadlocked on two counts, including potentially the most serious charge for Lawyer: second-degree assault with recklessness and illegal discharge of a firearm. A conviction on the second-degree assault charge carries a mandatory prison sentence of five to 16 years.

Unresolved Thursday was whether Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger would retry Lawyer on the two remaining counts.

“I want to know what the jury thought about the counts that were outstanding,” Hautzinger said. “We’ll reappraise where we go from there.”

There were no regrets, he said.

“Our goal all along was to get all the evidence and law in front of a jury, and they had it all,” Hautzinger said. “Four out of six is better than six out of six.”

Flushed with emotion immediately after the verdict, Lawyer declined to comment. A dozen or so supporters huddled outside the courtroom around Lawyer, praying over him.

The courtroom, however, largely was devoid of emotional responses upon reading of the verdict, which came after District Judge Richard Gurley warned the public gallery against such displays.

The verdict was read amid high courtroom security, with at least 10 Mesa County Sheriff’s Department deputies in uniform or plain clothes in the room.

10 to 2

Eric Fenster, Lawyer’s Denver-based attorney, said he expects the remaining charges to be dismissed. While jurors declined to speak with The Daily Sentinel immediately after the verdict, Fenster said they told attorneys in the case they were deadlocked in the defendant’s favor, 10 voting not guilty and two voting guilty, on both hung counts.

“The overwhelming sentiments from the jury were support for Trooper Lawyer, and they showed a real understanding of the volatile conditions he faced that night,” Fenster said.

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and principles of lawful search and seizure, a linchpin of the prosecution’s case, was “very ancillary,” Fenster said.

“This wasn’t just about a DUI, but securing a person who was resisting arrest,” he said.

Prosecutors disputed that notion, arguing Kemp lawfully refused entry in his home and demanded a warrant.

To find criminal negligence, according to state statute, the jury had to find Lawyer’s actions were a “gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise,” and that the trooper failed to perceive “a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a result will occur or that a circumstance exists.”

Kemp, 31, was fatally shot in the doorway of 103 Glade Park Road, Unit B, in what started as a non-injury, traffic-accident investigation.

Lawyer testified he thought Kemp might have had a weapon and said he saw Kemp’s right arm raise up quickly when the home’s front door flew open, after repeated kicks at the door and firing of pepper spray inside by Lawyer. Kemp was unarmed.

Lawyer testified he briefly saw Kemp “engaged physically” with another state trooper, Cpl. Kirk Firko, just outside the door before Kemp managed to run back inside and slam the door shut.

That, Lawyer testified, gave him and Firko lawful reason to enter the home without a warrant.

Prosecutors questioned Lawyer’s account, noting Lawyer didn’t mention anything about the encounter between Kemp and Firko when Lawyer testified before a Mesa County grand jury in 2010, or when he was interviewed by Mesa County Sheriff’s Department investigators.

Both troopers began kicking at the door, at least 20 times according to the account of one witness, before it flew open, and Kemp was shot once through the heart.

ACLU weighs in

Firko, meanwhile, is slated for trial starting July 16 on charges including two counts of first-degree criminal trespass, two counts of attempted first-degree criminal trespass and criminal mischief.

Lawyer has been on unpaid administrative leave from the State Patrol, last drawing a paycheck from the agency in October 2010, when he was indicted.

State Patrol Maj. Barry Bratt, who oversees the State Patrol in Mesa County and much of western Colorado, said Lawyer’s status didn’t change with Thursday’s verdicts.

Lawyer, Firko, Sgt. Chad Dunlap and Ralph Turano, a Front Range-based training attorney who worked with State Patrol troopers, are named in a civil lawsuit by Kemp’s parents, Keith and Connie Kemp of Georgia.

The Kemps are represented in the matter by the American Civil Liberties Union, which issued a statement Thursday.

“The verdict underscores the importance of the Kemp family’s pending civil suit,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director at ACLU Denver.

“ACLU lawyers will continue to press our case for justice for Jason Kemp and his family.”


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The 4th amendment needed to be upheld in this case. The officers should have had to get a warrant. Our founding fathers would be disgusted with the way the constitution has been trampled upon. We are no longer secure in our persons and papers if stormtroopers can just barge in, guns blazing.

Volatile conditions he faced that night!!!!  He created those volatile conditions by unlawfully forcing his way into a home to possible obtain a voluntary blood/breath sample that would not have held water in court.  The troop here in Grand Junction already has one investigation going on with a trooper unlawfully arresting people for DUI, filing false police reports and then purjering himself on the stand.  Appears Lawyer is sipping from that same trough as he just happens to remember in court that Firko and Kemp had an encounter?  In police work, if your core transaction is bad, in the cases the felonious entry into Kemp’s home, then the rest that follows is unlawful.  This community was demand accountability for Lawyer’s felonious and deadly actions.  What is not lost on the DA’s office is that Lawyer might have skated for homicide with his Choir boy looks and aw shucks I didn’t know better attitude, he not only committed these unlawful state acts, he committed felonious acts under Federal law that he can and must be tried for.  Your silence echos agreement with the jury’s actions and that is no justice for the Kemp family.  Unite in the call for a federal investigation and indictment.  We might also call for the disarmament and disbanding of this current troop of CSP officers stationed out of Fruita.  This is too many corrupt officers to escape the notice of the superviosry staff.  Corrupt?  They willfully violate our individual rights and kill our citizens defending their homes.  How much more corrupt do you think they can get?  Know your rights under the constitution people.  It may not save you from a troopers bullet but it may guard you against another such incident, or unlawful search and seizure or the wilfull destruction of property by officers out on a lark.

The text of the 4th Amendment is: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” A good explanation of exactly what that means is found in the unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision in Ex Parte Burford, 7 U.S. 448 (1806), in which the court said, “The Judges of this court were unanimously of opinion, that the warrant of commitment was illegal, for want of stating some good cause certain, supported by oath.” There is nothing remotely hard about any of those words to understand, so the people who disagree with them, should do the work of repealing the 4th Amendment legitimately pursuant to Article V, not by acquitting cops who violate them and kill people the law doesn’t say deserve to be killed.
A verdict such as this one should come as no surprise in a country where we don’t even know who killed JFK (74% of the people think the government version of events is a lie) and where the current president was born in Kenya and therefore not constitutionally qualified to be president. Fact is, the rule of law in America is dead, as along with the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. America has become a police state because too many people “educated” in Big-Brother government schools want the government to make it that way.
The so-called “war on drugs”, designed to destroy the 4th Amendment, and supported by well-intended-but-constitutionally-apathetic people, has faithfully served its purpose. And I say that as a teetotaler who believes drugs are poison, not food. In fact, these days many of our so-called “foods” are also poisonous.
I don’t know the facts of this case first hand. What I do know is that police not infrequently kill innocent people in wrong-address, no-knock, no-warrant raids, terrorizing people and shooting pets as well as innocent people with no accountability and no meaningful liability.
It is not for nothing that people with such “conservative” bona fides as William F. Buckley and Congressman Ron Paul have publicly called for legalization.
Even if the DA decided to try the case merely to escape the political baggage of unilaterally exonerating the police for the shooting, the fact remains that 10 out of 12 jurors sent the message to the police that it’s perfectly OK to disregard the 4th Amendment as being irrelevant.
I am forced to vigorously disagree with a message I consider so deadly dangerous to individual freedom in America. But I certainly won’t hold my breath for the two hung charges to be retried.

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