Trial nears for accused shooter of Rifle cop

A man accused of shooting a Rifle police officer in his bullet-proof vest is scheduled to go to trial on July 16, amid signs that one defense he may raise is the question of whether officers fired on him first.

The trial of Phil Amonette, 54, is scheduled to last 10 days. He is charged with attempted first-degree murder after deliberation and first-degree assault against a peace officer with a deadly weapon.

He’s accused of having fired on Rifle officer Garrett Duncan Oct. 22, 2010, when Duncan and fellow officer Dewey Ryan responded to a domestic violence call at a Rifle U-Haul business with residence quarters. The bullet was stopped by Duncan’s vest and a cellphone, police say.

Ryan testified in a preliminary hearing that he fired back at Amonette five times. Amonette was struck several times and underwent multiple surgeries.

Amonette’s public defenders have filed numerous pretrial motions in the case. One sought disclosure of police personnel records about use of force “and other exculpatory information.” It said an FBI analysis couldn’t determine who shot first based on its analysis of an audio recording of the shooting taped by one of the officers.

“Whether the physical evidence supports the officers’ assertions that Mr. Amonette shot first is still an open question in this case,” the motion said.

The 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office has cleared Ryan of any criminal wrongdoing in the case.

The defense motion also seeks to raise questions about Duncan’s state of mind. It claims he told a Garfield County sheriff’s investigator after the shooting that, in explaining a five-month gap between jobs in law enforcement, he said he “kind of had a breakdown. I wanted to get out of law enforcement.”

The motion said Duncan went on to explain to the investigator, “The whole change and everything going on in life, it probably wasn’t the best time.”

The city of Rifle opposed the records request, citing the officers’ right to privacy, questioning the relevance of the information requested and contending the request is “overbroad, burdensome and factually inapplicable to the case.”

Amonette’s defenders also have sought to have the case dismissed under Colorado’s “make my day” defense, arguing in a brief that the officers “stormed” into his residence without permission, wore dark clothing without clear police identification and looked like people breaking into his home.

Prosecutors have responded that Amonette didn’t live where the incident occurred, automatically disqualifying the make-my-day defense. Also, prosecutors argue, the officers were responding to an active domestic violence case involving a woman who was upset when they arrived, and comments Amonette reportedly had made to the woman beforehand about him not going back to jail and telling her to go ahead and call police show he knew Ryan and Duncan were officers.

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