Colorado State Patrol makes needed point
We’ve been critical of top leadership of the Colorado State Patrol in the past year for not addressing a culture at Fruita-based Troop 4A that apparently allowed a few officers to adopt an anything-goes attitude.
So it was welcome news this week that State Patrol leaders in Denver fired two officers involved in the 2010 shooting death of Jason Kemp on the Redlands and announced they are conducting an ongoing internal investigation involving people within the local troop.
It’s true that a jury earlier this year found former Trooper Ivan Lawyer not guilty of criminal charges for his part in the Kemp shooting, and District Attorney Pete Hautzinger later decided not to prosecute former Cpl. Kirk Firko.
But that doesn’t mean the two followed appropriate CSP procedures when they pounded on the door of Kemp’s home and attempted to force their way into his house following a noninjury car accident in which Kemp was suspected of drunken driving.
As the prosecution noted during Lawyer’s trial, there were serious Fourth Amendment issues involving what constitutes a proper search under such circumstances, and whether the officers had probable cause to pursue Kemp into his home.
Additionally, as The Daily Sentinel has argued since shortly after Kemp’s death, there was no need for the two to be so aggressive with Kemp. They could just as easily have backed away and called for other law enforcement officials with more experience in home standoffs.
Beyond the actions of the two officers, there is evidence that Firko and Lawyer weren’t solely responsible for the events that occurred at Kemp’s home. That’s why a wrongful-death civil lawsuit by Kemp’s family named not just Lawyer and Firko, but a State Patrol sergeant and a training officer.
Evidence presented at Lawyer’s trial raised questions about the officers’ training and the culture in Fruita.
One witness testified that Lawyer told him he had received very little training in Fourth Amendment issues. And Lawyer said that shortly before the Kemp killing, he was “scolded” by a supervisor for failing to use enough force to subdue another suspect who was resisting arrest.
Also, the Kemp killing was just the most serious of several questionable incidents in the past few years that involved State Patrol officers from the Fruita troop.
There are certainly good CSP officers working in this region, and they deserve all citizens’ support. But a culture that allows rogue officers to act inappropriately with little or no consequences casts a shadow over all employees.
State Patrol head Col. James Wolfinbarger needs to make it clear that sort of behavior won’t be tolerated in Grand Junction or anywhere else in Colorado.
With the firings of Lawyer and Firko, and the announcement of the internal investigation of others at the Fruita troop, he is beginning to make just such a statement.