Details released about prank call that led to Routt County SWAT mission

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— The Routt County Sheriff’s Office this week released audio recordings and more details related to the prank phone call that led SWAT team members to force their way into a home with two unsuspecting residents inside.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation refers to such incidents as swatting, and there have been numerous cases in the United States in recent years.

“Sometimes swatting is done for revenge, sometimes as a prank,” the FBI’s website states. “Either way, it is a serious crime, and one that has potentially dangerous consequences.”

Sheriff Garrett Wiggins shares those concerns and is disturbed that someone chose Routt County, where there are many gun owners prepared to defend themselves.

Wiggins also is concerned about copycats, people who learn about the prank and then decide to do one themselves.

“My fear is that someone is going to get hurt or killed,” Wiggins said.

That could include the victim of the prank or a law enforcement officer.

On the night of May 28, an upset male caller contacted Denver Police Dispatch and said he had shot his mother and brother.

“It’s very convincing,” Wiggins said.

Audio clip

Audio of prank phone call

After providing an address, the Denver dispatcher learned the caller was not in the area. The caller stated he was using an iPod to make the phone call, and Denver dispatch was the only number he could dial on the iPod.

The caller gave his address as 31445 Shoshone Way and pronounced the street like “show shown.” The caller also said he was calling from Oak Creek. Shoshone Way is located in the Stagecoach area, but residents there have Oak Creek postal addresses.

“I still have the gun,” the caller said. “I didn’t mean to shoot her.”

The caller said his mom still was breathing, and her eyes were closed.

“She said she was going to tell my dad that I was doing drugs, and I panicked,” the caller said.

The caller also said the brother had been shot, and initially the caller said he was dead. Later, he said the brother had been shot in the shoulder and still was alive.

The dispatcher told the caller he was trying to get information so he could send people to help the caller’s family members.

“If the cops come in and try to take me, I will shoot,” the caller said. “I’m shooting anybody.”

The caller said the house he was at belonged to his aunt, and he provided her name.

The dispatch recordings show that Denver dispatch tried to contact Oak Creek police, but they got an answering machine. Denver dispatch then relayed the information to Routt County Communications. Wiggins thought they were dealing with either a multiple homicide or hostage situation. What ensued was an incident that Wiggins said could have been avoided in multiple ways.

Wiggins said the SWAT team, referred to locally as the Combined Emergency Response Team, gathered at the Stagecoach fire station. Wiggins said the caller provided the name of a person who they knew lived in the house.

“As we’re verifying information and getting eyes on the house, a lot of the information that we’re receiving is verified,” Wiggins said.

With bad cellphone coverage in the area, it also was understandable why the person was calling for help using an Internet service.

At the house, officers found a pickup running with its lights on and detained a man.

“We ended up taking this guy at gunpoint,” Wiggins said.

They later learned the man was a neighbor who had learned about the reported shooting from a volunteer firefighter, who thought the neighbor should know what was happening and was told to lock their doors and stay in the house.

“It’s something we feel should not have taken place,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins said they called two cellphone numbers and a landline associated with the residence, and no one answered. SWAT officers entered the house from the front and back using a dynamic entry. The doors were broken and flash bangs were used to disorient those inside. SWAT officers found a couple inside the home.

“They’re scared to death, but there is nobody shot, nobody laying on the floor,” Wiggins said.

After talking to the residents, it was clear they were dealing with a prank phone call.

Then the frustration set in.

Wiggins said the concerned neighbor taken at gunpoint outside the residence had knocked on the doors and windows trying to get in the house. Wiggins said that after the incident, the residents said their dog was barking, and they thought someone was trying to break in, but they did not try to find out what was going on or call 911.

“They couldn’t give me an explanation,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins also was frustrated that the residents ignored their phone calls.

He said the residents were renting the home and were in the process of moving out.

The Steamboat Pilot & Today called the phone number associated with the residence, but the number was disconnected.

Wiggins said he told the residents that the county would cover the cost of the damage.

“They understood, and they looked back and said, 'We could have done this, we could have done that,'” Wiggins said.

Wiggins said they did everything they could to verify the threat.

“We had no idea this was a prank call,” Wiggins said. “We thought this was the real deal.”

The Sheriff's Office had responded to the quiet area before for violent crimes. On the same night exactly one year ago in the same neighborhood, 9-year-old Asher Lesyshen-Kirlan was shot and killed by his mother, Lisa Lesyshen, who since has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

It is thought that the caller was using Skype to make the call. Like in other swatting cases, the call is not easily traceable. Wiggins said no suspect has been identified, and they are working with federal law enforcement agencies to find the person responsible.

“Since we first warned about this phone hacking phenomenon in 2008, the FBI has arrested numerous individuals on federal charges stemming from swatting incidents, and some are currently in prison,” the FBI’s website states.

Anyone with information can call the Routt County Sheriff’s Office at 970-870-5503. Those wishing to remain anonymous can call Routt County Crime Stoppers at 970-870-6226.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

Comments

Eric Morris 6 months, 2 weeks ago

You've been punk'd. I am referring to us taxpayers, because the county is paying for the damage. I guess Garrett, Ray, and the boys normally in brown but probably this night in black aren't offering to take it our of their salaries, or better yet pensions.

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Eric Morris 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Wouldn't a hostage situation involve negotiation rather than disorienting the victims? The supposed perpetrator had already contacted authorities; hostage 101 tells you this person is ready for help by asking for it. Storming the house is not a reasonable response under these fake circumstances.

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Scott Wedel 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Well, as described it would seem that neighbor didn't think gunshots had been fired.

If they thought the call from an iPad was credible then certainly they could expect that there wasn't a working land line or cell phone.

And the mispronounced street name and wrong area (Oak Creek instead of Stagecoach) should have been warning signs suggesting a good chance of it being a prank call.

Seems to me that they had several reasons to start off with a megaphone seeking to make contact to either start negotiation or inform residents of the prank call.

Nice thing with those flash grenades is that they don't need surprise to work. So if megaphone contact doesn't work then it has not compromised their ability to storm the house. If the SWAT team was willing to make calls to landline and cell phones believed to be at the house then why weren't they contacted with a megaphone?

Hopefully, sheriff dept modifies their procedures to include the possibility of a prank call and makes a more dedicated effort to make contact with occupants when there is suspicion of a prank call.

Being so easily fooled into "dynamic entry" runs a serious risk of getting an officer or resident killed. Grow houses are notorious for having booby traps to deter potential thieves.

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john bailey 6 months, 2 weeks ago

ah , fun times in the hood......I was wondering if this is the same house that set their yard on fire a few years ago......never a dull moment out in the county huh ?

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jerry carlton 6 months, 2 weeks ago

All you "experts" in law enforcement should go down and apply for a job. Anybody bothered that some idiot made the call? If he is apprehended, he deserves a year in jail or 2 in prison for putting peoples lives at risk. Pretty easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, especially if you have never played the game.

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Scott Wedel 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Yes, I am bothered that some idiot made the call. They should get that person for everything it is worth.

I am also bothered that the Sheriff's dept fell for it hook line and sinker despite the warning signs that it could be a prank.

Not that they could have ignored it, but they should have tried to make contact with megaphone. Particularly since they tried to make contact with land line and cell phones believed to be inside.

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Jim Kelley 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Jerry, It's not about if we, the tax payers paying for this circus show, have to have experience in law enforcement to judge this incident. We, as citizens provide for the sheriff's office budget and we elect him. We are his boss and we get to judge his performance. By absolutely any measure, this was a complete debacle. I believe they will sue the county and win easily and Mr Wiggins will have to really examine whether there asinine policies should be changed. We can and should watch, judge, comment and vote. This is not fantasy football ("Monday morning quarterback") This is real and it happened in my back yard!

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Eric Morris 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Jerry, I don't believe in government so would never apply for that kind of job. Since I am forced to pay for their jobs, I can complain in my own small way on this forum when they do that job in a ham handed way. Hopefully the yahoos throwing the grenades or leading them will read some of these comments and realize their best act of contrition is quitting. At the least, use a megaphone and common sense.

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Dan Kuechenmeister 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Ah yes. The benefit of hindsight. Ever try driving your car just looking in the rear view mirror. One would not get very far. Why do I have the feeling that those criticizing the lack of the use of the megaphone would be the same ones criticizing had the megaphone been used and while that was being done more mayhem was done had this been a real situation. I for one am grateful that there are men and women willing to risk their lives if necessary. They did the best job they could and fortunately for all there was no loss of life. Could they have done something differently. Well in hindsight of course. As I was not there, no way for me to say otherwise

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jerry carlton 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Eric and Scott As I said above, Monday morning quarterbacking from two people who have never played the game is worth nothing. I was never on the street or on a swat team but I spent 5 years of my life dealing with murderers, bank robbers, child molesters, and your everyday whacked out drunks and druggies as a corrections officer at Yakima County Jail, Yakima Washington. What are your qualifications to say that the officers did not use "common sense"? You now have a very professional sheriff with an excellent department. Remember the days of Gary Wall?

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Eric Morris 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Dan, swatting has been a known activity for years; these supposed professionals with all their training should know to look for obvious clues before going in grenades blazing. iPad call, out of the region, mispronounced street name, begging for help, eerily quiet home (though swatters also take advantage of gamers playing shooter games loudly). These coppers in their special made up teams are adrenaline junkies looking for a high, hence overuse of SWAT teams in places that don't need them. Read some Radley Balko. At the least, Ray and Garrett (freedom loving republican) should. They would be enlightened. We wouldn't want our public servants being well-informed, would we?

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Eric Morris 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Jerry, it isn't a game. What these cops did simply was break doors and enter. The rest of us mundanes would be arrested for violating someone's property rights. Just because you wear a silly uniform you can do it as a game because when you break and enter incorrectly all you owe is a meek apology and someone else pays. In many cases, the homeowner pays. No one put a gun to your head to be a jailer. Those same swat teams and jailers will ride herd on me, though, if I didn't pay my taxes. The victims should enforce justice, not some artificial state. We could learn something from "primitive" societies that don't have the highest incarceration rates in the world. Our incarceration rates are more indicative of a primitive society, if you ask me.

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Scott Wedel 6 months, 2 weeks ago

I would to see an article based upon an interview of the neighbor that was arrested. Seems to me that either that neighbor could be a suicidal idiot rushing to a neighboring house with an armed gunman whom is threatening to kill any one that enters. Or the neighbor recognized it was a prank call and wanted to tell the neighbors what was going on and to peaceably resolve the situation.

An article talking to Denver or other larger city SWAT teams on their procedures would also be very interesting. I would expect that those SWAT teams have better procedures that include the possibility of prank calls and avoid breaking down doors until they have gathered some information at the scene of what is believed to be happening inside.

Unannounced breaking down doors is incredibly dangerous for all involved because anyone inside could think they are being attacked and try to defend themselves which can be deadly for the occupants or members of the SWAT team.

I recall reading a case of a man walking inside his house with a gun whom won millions of dollars in damages when shot by a SWAT team because the SWAT team couldn't show there was immediate danger to anyone.

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rhys jones 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Tee-hee. How 'bout COWBOYS: Crybabies Or Whiny Blowhards Only Yapping Snidely.

Seriously, Mark. I do not recall one positive, encouraging, or entertaining comment out of you, EVER. Every single one is bitching about somebody, not even the subject at hand. You must stew in your own bile all day. You sound like a real fun guy.

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john bailey 6 months, 2 weeks ago

we could use an anchor on the slow boat to Aruba.....think he might qualify? HA how bout them COWBOYS!

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rhys jones 6 months, 2 weeks ago

I know that stun grenades were used, property was damaged, and a potentially volatile situation was created, where none existed before, by an inappropriate use of excessive force, when the standard procedure of a hostage negotiator with a bullhorn was never even attempted, instead opting for the far-more-thrilling forced entry. Proper procedure could have avoided a lot of flash-bang.

I agree with Eric: There is NO NEED for a SWAT team in Routt County -- it is not only a huge waste of taxpayer money, but as can be seen in the instant example, they are actually a liability. Good judgment does not prevail there.

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Eric Morris 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Mark, I do not believe in government in general, but I specifically do not think rural and safe Routt County needs a swat team. I had no idea our tax dollars were paying for this. People choose and are fortunate enough to live in places like this because they don't need some military style force "protecting" them from non-existent bad guys. I would like the sheriff to point to one time its swat team saved lives. Otherwise, I think it should be disbanded.

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Scott Wedel 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Well, I just reviewed a couple of dozen news reports of false SWAT calls and not one resulted in breaking down doors and flash grenades. Not even the one in which local fireworks were mistaken by the SWAT team at the scene as gunshots.

And definitely more is known than "nothing more than SWAT was deployed". The Sheriff's dept has released the prank call. The Sheriff's dept says they entered via two doors and used "flash bangs" which is another name for stun grenades.

I think enough is known to question this incident because it appears that either the SWAT team didn't follow procedures or the procedures are out of line with other departments.

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jerry carlton 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Eric I know it is not a game. See where 2 Vegas police officers were shot and killed today while eating lunch in a pizza place today? I will try another sports analogy. Since I never played football, my opinions of a high school quarterback's performance would be completely useless to him. My opinion would be really useless to Peyton Manning. Having no experience or training in law enforcement, your opinion which you are entitled to, is completely useless to law enforcement. Sell your property, rent, work off the books and the only taxes you will have to pay is sales tax. There is a very small proportion of people in this county and country that live this lifestyle. I am unaware of the last time anyone was killed by law enforcement in this county but I think it was in the 20's or 30's. You did not say if you want Gary Wall back?

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rhys jones 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Jerry -- We HAVE had a colorful string of Sheriffs here, of the last five I know of. John Warner gets the award for running the best jail, at least from an inmate's perspective -- well, Tim Walsh had a good one too (as good as jail can be) but that was under the old courthouse, apples and oranges. We could smoke cigarettes, and stay up all night watching Cinemax and HBO. Ah for the good ol' days...

I've had a bit of experience with law enforcement... I am precluded from expounding on any family connections, as a result of blabbing too much a while back... but I've been an armed guard for months on end, in the Marines, the law of my post. Nobody ever stole a plane on my watch. This is not to mention my extensive contacts from the other side of the fence, (or locks) and the table on the left.

Thus qualified -- and backed by Scott's research -- I think the evidence supports that the Mounties overreacted in this case.

Yeah, the Rockies aren't as fun to watch as just a month ago -- they just delayed their annual dive by a few weeks this year. Can't wait for Nuggets season (yes I can, that'll mean summer is over) as they can hardly suck any worse either.

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Scott Wedel 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Jerry,

For the false SWAT call, it also take little research to learn that "dynamic entries" are exceptionally dangerous for the occupants and for the SWAT team. Somebody happens to be in a bathroom or other place not affected by the flash bangs and starts shooting or is shot by a surprised SWAT team.

It would be in the SWAT team's safety interests as well as the public's if there are more questions on RCSO''s procedures and whether they make sense (or were followed).

I don't think the SWAT team should be disbanded because there can be a local incident in which a SWAT team is needed. The SWAT team doesn't significantly impart RCSO's ability to patrol, investigate or other needed functions.

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jerry carlton 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Rhys Warner was sheriff when I got here and I felt he did an excellent job. Wall was the definition of a dysfunctional department. I think Wiggins is doing an excellent job and has my vote in November. I remember your brothers connections and will grant you your Marines experience. However since your experience in the Marines, our perspective is going to be different since we have been mostly on opposite side of the bars. Speaking of Mounties, see where three were killed in Canada last week? Two officers shot in a pizza shop in Vegas day before yesterday. Officers are killed all over the country almost every day. It has not happened in Routt County for 60 or 70 years but it will happen again. It is inevitable. No one was injured except maybe their feelings, property damage was minimal, and everybody ended the night safely. I would rather see 1000 operations like this than one with a dead officer. That is why all the Monday morning quarterbacking irritates me. If Wiggins has a loose cannon in the dept. he will get rid of him.

Scott W. I am sure that the sheriffs office is taking a very close look at the incident. If you think that the sheriffs office needs a civilian oversight committee then get a petition going and take it to the county commissioners. I was never under more scrutiny than my 5 years working at the jail. Pretty much everything in law enforcement is high risk. I am sure you can find research that says overpowering force is the proper response for certain situations. In the field and in corrections you do not have the luxury of research. You react based on your training and instincts.

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Eric Morris 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Jerry, I was in the military and do not think those tactics are appropriate here in the US. I also disagree that you need experience to comment on government actions; remember, civilian control is supposedly a bedrock of the US military. I have looked to try to find the situation where a swat team saved the day superman style but have not found it. Most of these tragic murder situations involve people that commit suicide, or give up like Aurora. Most of the swat work is related to the misguided drug war (military theme) and its evil twins of federal government support (Byrne Act) and civil asset forfeiture.

Finally, depending on year and list, police is at bottom or not even in top 10 most dangerous jobs. The years and lists I saw showed between 100 and 150 deaths per year, with about half if not more traffic related. One of the lists said only two of the traffic deaths were related to high speed chase, so nearly all are just routine accidents.

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Scott Wedel 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Jerry,

I am not so confident that the Sheriff's dept will do a critical review of the SWAT raid. The internal person that criticizes the raid would be ending their career as not being a team player.

Unless the public and the press ask questions such as why other SWAT teams have managed to cope with false reports without using force via dynamic entries then any internal report can ignore the difficult questions. They can say no one was hurt and declare it was a success.

I would expect a report on the incident would be dramatically different if written by RCSO vs bringing in an outsider such as a retired commander from Denver's SWAT team.

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jerry carlton 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Scott You started that petition for a citizens review board yet?

Eric Since you do not believe in government, what were you doing in the military? Tell the families of the 3 Mounties killed last week and the two Vegas Police Officers killed a couple days ago how safe law enforcement is. I guess it was just a bad week with 5 lawmen killed in 7 days or so and that was the ones that made national news.

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Scott Wedel 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Jerry,

I don't think that citizens review boards work well because they are largely self selected and don't represent the general population. For instance, YVHA mostly consists of people that care about affordable housing. But only some on the board would be considered fit to serve on a board that managed millions in assets which they have.

The County Commissioners should be the equivalent of a citizens review board. Ultimately, the county budget is at risk from a SWAT team that has an unfortunate incident that results in a lawsuit.

Your citing the deaths of police officers shows the dangers of the job, but it none of them were killed responding to a prank SWAT call and does nothing to show that RCSO's SWAT operations in Stagecoach were done according to best practices. Dynamic forced entries are dangerous to the officers and the occupants. In at least a couple dozen reported cases of false reporting, all of those SWAT teams resolved the situation with no officer or occupant deaths and with no risky dynamic forced entries.

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Eric Morris 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Jerry, I learned in the military that, as Smedley Butler stated, war is a racket and the US military does nothing to defend freedoms or national security. Those experiences in the military Ied me to read Ludwig Von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Lew Rockwell, and Ron Paul. I would encourage others to read about anarcho-capitalism and the Austrian School of Economics. It is truly liberating.

I wasn't saying that police work is free of danger, but there are many other jobs, which happen to be actually productive, more dangerous, such as construction, fishing, and trucking.

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jerry carlton 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Scott So you want to bring in Denver's retired SWAT commander and pay him $5000 to review the incident? He would probably want $10,000 to do it.

Eric The two clowns that killed the Vegas police officers and one civilian were anti-government. I wonder if they read some of the same people that you did? To some extent I agree that we should have been in no wars since WWII. The corrupt federal government has put us in those wars. That is the politicians and the military/industrial complex paying off the politicians that have caused that. If you truly want to live without government your best option is to move into the middle of the Alaskan bush and live completely off grid and by subsistence hunting. There is lots of room to disappear up there.

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Eric Morris 6 months, 2 weeks ago

A core tenet of that philosophy is the non-aggression principle. Anti-government does not mean violence. We will win with our ideas. Those people are just murderers.

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mark hartless 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Far too many politicians and others equate being anti-government with being pro violence, racist, anarchist, etc. Totally un-true. I can follow the lawsand respect cops while hating the systems' guts; have been doing so all my adult life...

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Chris Hadlock 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Interesting Article. What say you Jerry? http://www.dailydot.com/opinion/us-military-tech-electronic-warfare/

If an anonymous phone call can cause flash bang grenades in my front room with no warning at all, I have to believe that my rights have been violated. Could not someone have actually looked thru the window or made a single phone call?

An interesting dilemma to be sure. One one hand, property owners have strong rights in relationship to their property and privacy. On the other Law Enforcement should be able to respond with the force necessary to subdue the suspect and protect themselves as much as possible.

I suspect that any review would look much like the current political deadlock. One side saying procedures were followed and all is well with the other pointing fingers and making accusations about abuse and brutality.

This screams for an investigation by the Pilot. How about chasing something important for a change.

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mark hartless 6 months, 2 weeks ago

We are far from the Austrian School today... unfortunately.

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rhys jones 6 months, 2 weeks ago

From the Colorado Revised Statutes:

18-3-206. Menacing

(1) A person commits the crime of menacing if, by any threat or physical action, he or she knowingly places or attempts to place another person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury. Menacing is a class 3 misdemeanor, but, it is a class 5 felony if committed:

(a) By the use of a deadly weapon or any article used or fashioned in a manner to cause a person to reasonably believe that the article is a deadly weapon;

18-3-208. Reckless endangerment

A person who recklessly engages in conduct which creates a substantial risk of serious bodily injury to another person commits reckless endangerment

18-8-803. Use of excessive force

(1) Subject to the provisions of section 18-1-707, a peace officer who uses excessive force in pursuance of such officer's law enforcement duties shall be subject to the criminal laws of this state to the same degree as any other citizen

I'd be talking to an attorney, were I those folks -- there's money to be made.

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rhys jones 6 months, 2 weeks ago

PS -- In the movies, Wyatt Earp would have at least said "Come out with your hands up, or we're comin' in after ya!!"

Not really. In real life he was a pretentious blowhard bully, backed by his brothers, power in numbers, a gang wherever they went -- why does that harken now? -- and their day is past.

Sue 'em, that's what I'd do.

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Jim Kelley 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Agreed. This has left an already traumatized neighborhood further shaken. Mr Wiggins did not rise to the occasion on this one.

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jerry carlton 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Chris I say the article has nothing to do with Routt County. I also say why not use some of that power to stop the weekend murders that happen in every major city in the country, especially Chicago.

Rhys You are right but most of the money will be made by the lawyers.

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rhys jones 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Yup, and we'll end up paying for it, and this whole affair will provide fodder for many a station-house yuk for years to come.

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