“Recklessly deficient” police training asserted as a contributing factor in wrongful shooting death."
Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado filed suit today in federal district court against three Colorado State Patrol officers – and two training supervisors – in the wrongful death of an unarmed Grand Junction man who was shot at point-blank range and killed last summer when he refused to allow officers to enter his home without a warrant.
The ACLU’s suit was filed on behalf of Connie and Keith Kemp, the parents of Jason Alan Kemp, a 31-year-old Mesa State College graduate, who died at the scene after Trooper Ivan Lawyer shot him in the chest.
The lawsuit asserts that Lawyer and two additional troopers at the scene, Corporal Kirk Firko and Sergeant Chad Dunlap, are responsible for Jason’s wrongful death as well as the illegal police actions that led to it, including attempting to break down Jason’s door when he told them they needed to get a warrant.
“The state troopers were investigating a minor accident that resulted, at most, in minimal damage to a neighbor’s lawn,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. “They suspected Jason was responsible for this minor accident and may have been driving under the influence of alcohol. But that provided no legal justification for proceeding without a warrant, drawing their guns, and attempting to kick down Jason’s front door. It certainly provided no justification for shooting him dead.”
“Jason was killed because he did what every American has the right to do. He insisted that police comply with the Fourth Amendment and obtain a warrant before entering a person’s home,” Silverstein continued.
The lawsuit also names as defendants additional employees of the State Patrol—Training Officer Ralph Turano and one or more yet-to-be-identified officers, currently designated as John Doe—whom the ACLU asserts were responsible for the constitutionally-deficient training of Lawyer, Firko, and Dunlap. An ACLU review of Colorado State Patrol training materials preceded the decision to include the Colorado State Patrol’s training supervisors as defendants.
“Two supervisory officers—a corporal and a sergeant—were present at the scene and supported or participated in this lawless action of forcefully breaking into a home without a warrant to investigate a minor DUI,” Silverstein continued. “Only recklessly deficient training could account for supervisors’ failure to stop the illegal warrantless entry before it resulted in the tragic escalation that unjustifiably took Jason’s life.”
A Mesa County Grand Jury indicted Lawyer and Firko in connection with the incident last fall. While declining to charge Lawyer with second degree murder or manslaughter, the grand jury did return indictments for criminally negligent homicide, second degree assault, criminal trespass and other charges. Firko faces charges of criminal trespass and criminal mischief. Dunlap was not charged with any crime.
“The criminal prosecution of Lawyer and Firko, even if successful, will not touch the supervisors and higher-ups at the Colorado State Patrol who share responsibility for Jason’s very avoidable death, nor will it bring to light the serious institutional failures of training and supervision that allowed this tragedy to occur” said Rebecca T. Wallace, ACLU Staff Attorney. “This lawsuit will hold accountable the highest-ranking supervisory officer on the scene, Sgt. Dunlap, as well as the State Patrol employees who should have educated the troopers fully on the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement, the limits of the exceptions, and the proper limits on use of deadly force.”
In addition to Silverstein and Wallace, the Kemps are represented by ACLU Cooperating Attorneys Paul G. Karlsgodt, Paul S. Enockson, Erica Gann Kitaev and Nathan A. Schacht of Baker Hostetler.