Thursday, August 10, 2000
Craig The commander of the Colorado State Patrol troop in northwest Colorado was investigating Thursday what was reported as an accidental discharge of a service weapon by a trooper under his supervision.
The incident reportedly happened after 14-year state patrol veteran Marty Smith stopped a carload of teen-agers who were suspected of trespassing on private land outside of Craig.
Capt. Gary Torgerson, commander of Troop 4, said Smith is the last trooper he would expect to be involved in a firearm accident.
"He's always been very in control at all times," said Torgerson, who has been in Craig 10 months.
Smith told his supervisors that after stopping the car around midnight Saturday, he got out of his vehicle. Torgerson said Smith, who was waiting for backup, was ready to tell the car occupants to remain where they were when he tripped and fell. Smith told Torgerson that as he was getting back to his feet, he saw the five occupants of the stopped vehicle get out and start running.
Smith reportedly drew his .40-caliber Smith and Wesson semi-automatic pistol as he rose and banged it on his patrol vehicle, an unmarked Ford Crown Victoria, and the gun went off. The bullet hit the ground between Smith's vehicle and the teen-agers' car.
"Thank God no one was hurt," Torgerson said.
The .40-caliber sidearm Smith uses is standard-issue for state troopers. It is carried uncocked, or with the hammer forward.
With the hammer forward, the pistol operates in a double-action mode.That means that as the trigger is pulled, the hammer goes back to its cocked position before slamming forward. That operation is a safety feature designed to prevent the weapon from discharging accidentally.
Knowing that, Torgerson speculated that Smith had his finger on the trigger as he got to his feet and the sudden contact with the curved side of the Crown Victoria door caused him to squeeze the trigger and fire the weapon.
Torgerson said Smith has been involved in "at least 1,000" high-risk stops during which he has had his weapon drawn on a potentially dangerous suspect. In addition, Smith is a firearms instructor with the local troop, which he joined in 1993. Prior to moving to Craig, Smith worked out of the Limon office.
"He's a good guy," Torgerson said. "He's a really good officer."
Smith ended up behind the carload of teen-agers Saturday night after responding to a call for assistance from the Moffat County Sheriff's Office.
A sheriff's deputy had tried to contact a group of teens hanging out on private land at the top of Sand Rocks outside of Craig. After the deputy arrived, the teens reportedly left in two vehicles.
The deputy followed one car and Smith chased the other, Torgerson said. At one point, the vehicle Smith was following got stuck in a ditch. It was then that Smith got out of his car, tripped and subsequently fired his weapon.
Torgerson said Smith feared for his safety as he looked up and saw the vehicle occupants, highlighted by his headlights, running from the vehicle. Torgerson added that Smith was embarrassed by the incident.
"It was purely an accident," Torgerson said. "We don't fire warning shots."
The five teens, all 18 or 19 years old, were eventually caught that night and later released.
Moffat County Sheriff Buddy Grinstead said charges are pending based on reports from the landowners on possible damage done to private property.
Torgerson wouldn't say what type of disciplinary action Smith faces, if any. The investigation was expected to take at least another day, Torgerson said Thursday.
Craig Daily Press reporter Tyler J. Baskfield contributed to this report.