“Dire circumstance and an unusual experience”
By Alissa Johnson
No criminal charges will be filed against a Gunnison police officer or two Gunnison County sheriff’s deputies as the result of an officer-involved shooting that occurred just over Monarch Pass in Chaffee County last winter. The District Attorney’s Office of the Seventh Judicial District has concluded that the officers’ actions in the matter, which included shooting at a suspect, were justified, given the circumstances.
“The evidence shows that each of these law enforcement officials reasonably believed that the use of force was necessary to defend himself or a third person from the use or imminent use of physical force, and… they used reasonable and appropriate physical force to effect the arrest…,” district attorney Dan Hotsenpiller wrote in a report released on October 19.
The DA’s office came to the conclusion after reviewing an investigation of the February 17 incident conducted by the Seventh Judicial District Critical Incident Investigation Team (CIIT).
According to the factual synopsis in Hotsenpiller’s report, the incident began in Gunnison when Gunnison police officer Chris Isham contacted a man sleeping in an idling, silver Jeep Grand Cherokee. When dispatch checked the name this man provided, it was associated with a deceased person and an expired Oklahoma driver’s license. The man had also exhibited some suspicious behavior during his interaction with officer Isham and stated that he did not have weapons in the vehicle. Later, he was identified as Roy Gilmore, with a date of birth of June 19, 1977.
“He had several wants and warrants from other states involving felony crimes. The motor vehicle had been stolen in the state of Nevada. The temporary license plate was listed to a Toyota RAV4 and therefore should not have been attached to the Jeep Cherokee. Further, Mr. Gilmore had in his possession, between the front driver’s seat and center console, a loaded handgun that had been very recently stolen from a Grand Junction, Colorado, business,” Hotsenpiller’s report read.
At the time, when officer Isham re-approached the Jeep, the driver put the car in reverse and accelerated backwards, bumping into the officer before accelerating forward. Officer Isham pursued the Jeep with support from Gunnison County sheriff’s deputy Ross Downs and deputy Ian Clark. Deputy Downs, who was in training, drove, and they were behind officer Isham.
According to the report, the Jeep reached speeds of 90 to 100 miles per hour on Highway 50 east of Gunnison. Heading up Monarch Pass, the Jeep reached speeds of 60 miles per hour.
“Around the time the vehicles reached the top of Monarch Pass, which is the dividing line between Gunnison and Chaffee Counties, a sergeant with the Gunnison Police Department determined that the pursuit should be discontinued,” the report stated.
While this information was relayed to the deputies, it did not reach officer Isham due to a lack of radio capabilities. Pursuit continued, and on the east side of Monarch Pass, Gilmore turned the Jeep onto Chafee County Road 224, which is dirt and gravel, and quickly became impassable due to snow. The Jeep appeared to become stuck, and when officer Isham pulled to the left side of the road, his vehicle also became stuck. The sheriff’s deputies parked “a little ways back” from officer Isham’s vehicle.
As officer Isham waded through deep snow toward the Jeep, Gilmore accelerated backwards, sideswiping officer Isham’s vehicle, hitting the front end of the county sheriff’s vehicle, and then turning and backing into trees on the north side of the road. Both officer Isham and deputy Clark made their way toward the Jeep, at which point the Jeep’s driver accelerated toward deputy Clark, who jumped out of the way.
In a February 19 interview, officer Isham said, “I heard shots… being fired at that time.”
The Jeep then headed toward Isham, and according to the DA’s report, “Officer Isham believed that ‘This guy is trying to—he’s tryin’ to run us over.’” Officer Isham tried to step out of the way and started firing at the driver.
“Officer Isham specifically remembered deciding to stop shooting at the point that the Jeep was past him and he was no longer in danger of being hit by the vehicle. Once the vehicle got past him, it veered off to the left, collided with an aspen tree, came to rest, and the horn started going off,” Hotsenpiller wrote.
Both deputy Downs and deputy Clark reported shooting at the vehicle too, though deputy Clark—who had jumped out of the way of the oncoming vehicle—could not remember exactly when he fired his service weapon. Downs fired when he was stuck knee-deep in snow and the vehicle was coming towards him, at which point he also believed that deputy Clark may have been run over.
After the Jeep came to a stop, the officers checked the vehicle for other passengers, contacted dispatch and began administering first aid to the Jeep’s driver, Gilmore. Gilmore had sustained one gunshot wound to his torso, which was not life-threatening. Toxicology reports later showed that he had amphetamine and methamphetamine in his system.
According to Gunnison County sheriff Rick Bessecker, the Sheriff’s Office and the Gunnison Police Department immediately made the decision to bring in the Critical Incident Investigation Team.
“Usually, they are detectives and investigators, and we did that within minutes of the event. The dust, or in this case, the snow was still settling. That takes the responsibility as well as that investigation out of our control, out of our hands, and puts it in nonbiased hands to thoroughly investigate,” Bessecker told the Crested Butte News.
According to the DA’s report, the CIIT investigation was “extremely thorough,” including interviews, search warrants and records. The scene itself was also processed and documented.
Hotsenpiller found, “All available evidence is consistent with the reports made by officer Isham, deputy Clark and deputy Downs.”
He also found that each of the officers reasonably believed that Gilmore was trying to run him over or was moving toward him when stuck in deep snow. “All three officers did not fire at the suspect or the Jeep until the suspect and the Jeep posed an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to them individually and to the other officers present,” Hotsenpiller wrote.
As a result, Hotsenpiller said, each officer acted in defense of self or others, and they were justified in using potentially deadly force according to Colorado law. No criminal charges will be filed.
According to Bessecker, he cannot remember another officer-involved shooting during his time with the Sheriff’s Office. “It was a dire circumstance and an unusual experience.”