Kemp lawsuit results in needed training changes

The million-dollar legal settlement announced Monday by the ACLU in the federal lawsuit involving a Grand Junction man shot and killed by a Colorado State Patrol trooper includes some critical provisions for all citizens of this state.

Most importantly, the State Patrol has agreed to provide comprehensive training on the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protection against illegal searches and seizures. State Patrol employees will also be instructed on when a warrantless entry into a home is justified in a drunk-driving case.

Those were critical issues for patrol troopers when Jason Kemp was suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol and of being involved in a minor accident near his home on the Redlands in July 2010.

Kemp was shot and killed by Trooper Ivan “Gene” Lawyer as he and CSP Cpl. Kirk Firko pounded and kicked on Kemp’s door and scuffled with Kemp in an effort to enter his home and apprehend him shortly after the accident.

A Mesa County grand jury indicted Firko and Lawyer in 2011 on a variety of charges related to Kemp’s death, but a jury found Lawyer “not guilty” on the most serious charges and charges were later dropped against Firko. Even so, questions were raised at Lawyer’s trial about the Fourth Amendment and when it’s appropriate for officers to undertake warrantless entry into a suspect’s home.

Those concerns also played a key role in the federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of Kemp’s family. And they resulted in some important changes by the State Patrol.

The agency agreed to instruct all State Patrol troopers and officers that even DUI cases where there is a possibility that a suspect’s blood-alcohol level might dissipate do not “constitute exigent circumstances sufficient to allow warrantless entry.”

As we said a month ago, when the agreement in principle in the federal lawsuit was announced, we hope the conclusion of this case will allow Colorado State Patrol leaders to conclude their investigation of the Fruita troop, where Lawyer and Firko worked. The State Patrol should quickly make those results public and tell people in this area what changes will be made in this region.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department should investigate whether there is a potential civil-rights-violation case to be made against Lawyer, Firko and others indirectly involved in Kemp’s death.

A $1 million-plus settlement won’t bring back Jason Kemp for his family. But it does amount to a constructive admission by the State Patrol that its policies contributed to his death.

Perhaps more importantly, the Kemp family’s lawsuit will result in training and policy changes for the State Patrol that, we hope, will prevent similar tragic constitutional violations in the future.


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