Troopers in Kemp death fired
Two Colorado State Patrol troopers who were prosecuted in the 2010 shooting death of Jason Kemp have been fired, the State Patrol confirmed Tuesday to The Daily Sentinel.
Trooper Ivan “Gene” Lawyer and Cpl. Kirk Firko had been the focus of a lengthy internal affairs investigation, said State Patrol Capt. Jeff Goodwin, spokesman at the agency’s headquarters in Lakewood.
Lawyer and Firko were notified Tuesday they were no longer employed by the agency, Goodwin said.
Goodwin declined to answer related questions. He added “other members” of the State Patrol in the Grand Valley and the Fruita-based Troop 4A are the focus of a separate, ongoing internal investigation. Goodwin did not release names and declined to characterize the ongoing probe.
“We want to reiterate our commitment to provide professional law enforcement services to the residents of Mesa County, our law enforcement partners and the district attorney in that community,” Goodwin said.
Bernard Woessner, one of several Denver-based attorneys defending Firko against a civil lawsuit lodged by Kemp’s family, confirmed the firing but declined comment.
“Not at this point,” Woessner said.
Another Denver attorney who represents Lawyer couldn’t immediately be reached.
A Mesa County jury in April acquitted Lawyer of criminal charges, while District Attorney Pete Hautzinger later dismissed all leftover charges in connection with the July 20, 2010, shooting death of Kemp. The shooting and trial were among several high-profile black eyes in recent years for the State Patrol in Mesa County.
Lawyer was found not guilty April 19 on charges including criminally negligent homicide in connection with Kemp’s death. Jurors hung on two counts, which Hautzinger declined to prosecute a second time. Hautzinger on May 25, citing the outcome of Lawyer’s trial, dismissed charges including criminal trespass and criminal mischief against Firko.
Both men were placed on paid administrative leave from the State Patrol after the dismissal of charges in their respective cases. They were indicted by the Mesa County grand jury in October 2010.
SEARCH LEGALITY ARGUED
Hautzinger’s case against Lawyer centered on the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and principles of lawful search and seizure, arguing Kemp was justified in refusing to open his front door for the troopers.
Lawyer’s defense said the actions were consistent with State Patrol training, arguing Kemp resisted arrest and that forced entry to Kemp’s home was legal under the circumstances.
Kemp, 31, was fatally shot in the doorway of his Redlands home, 103 Glade Park Road, Unit B, in what started as a non-injury, drunken-driving investigation. Kemp had returned inside his home after causing a traffic accident and shut his front door by the time the troopers tried contacting him. Witnesses said those efforts escalated from mild door knocks to pounding, kicking on the front door and firing pepper spray inside an opening.
Lawyer testified during his trial he thought Kemp might have had a weapon and said he saw Kemp’s right arm raise up quickly when the front door suddenly flew open, before Lawyer shot once and wounded Kemp through the heart. Kemp was unarmed.
This happened, Lawyer testified, shortly after he said he watched as Kemp “engaged physically” with Firko just outside the front door. He testified Kemp managed to run back inside and slam the door shut.
Prosecutors questioned Lawyer’s account. Hautzinger told jurors that Lawyer didn’t mention anything about the encounter between Kemp and Firko outside of the home when Lawyer testified before the grand jury in 2010, or during his interviews with Mesa County Sheriff’s Department investigators.
The trial also brought an unflattering spotlight on the leadership of the Fruita 4A Troop. Lawyer testified that, shortly before Kemp’s shooting, he had been “scolded” by a supervisor for not using enough force on a suspect who allegedly resisted arrest. “I was told I should have emptied my pepper-spray canister on him,” Lawyer said on a video during an interview with a Mesa County sheriff’s investigator, which was played for the jury.
DA, FAMILY DECLINE COMMENT
Hautzinger, meanwhile, declined comment Tuesday on the dismissals of Lawyer and Firko.
“I don’t know what it’s based on or if it relates to our criminal case,” he said.
A representative of Kemp’s family also declined comment.
Lawyer, Firko, Sgt. Chad Dunlap and Ralph Turano, a Front Range-based trainer who worked with troopers, are named in a wrongful death lawsuit by Kemp’s parents, Keith and Connie Kemp of Georgia. The case is still pending in U.S. District Court in Denver.
Kemp’s death hadn’t seen the inside of a courtroom in Mesa County when former Trooper Donald Moseman was dismissed from the agency in December 2011 after an internal affairs investigation concluded he showed bias in his handling of numerous impaired driving investigations. To date, 30 Mesa County cases handled by Moseman have been dismissed by the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office in the face of credibility concerns surrounding Moseman’s work.
“There is work to be done for sure toward assuaging people’s concerns,” State Patrol Col. James Wolfinbarger, head of the State Patrol, told the Daily Sentinel in a June interview.