On November 10, Jeffrey Musick, a 38-year-old with a history of mental illness and a slew of arrests (see a gallery of his mug shots below), was shot to death by Auraria Campus Police Officer Robert Burnett after allegedly attacking him with a sword. Today, the Denver District Attorney's Office has released a letter deeming this action justified. Continue to read it and see photos of the scene and Burnett's wounded hand. According to the letter's "statement of facts" section, the incident took place on November 10, when the Auraria campus ROTC was staging a five kilometer walk/run in commemoration of Veteran's Day. At around 6 a.m. that morning, a cadet told law enforcement that he saw "a person in an all-black outfit" walk by the table where he was sitting. The cadet's account continues:
He had his face covered, and stared me down as he walked past the group of four cadets. I saw he seemed to have two ninja swords on him, and he was walking around briskly in an odd manner. His presence startled the other three cadets and myself, so as he walked around the other side of the Tivoli building, I asked the others if they had the campus emergency phone #. CDT [Cadet] Connell had it, so I instructed him to call & let them know the situation. Very shortly after, I saw several cop cars speed by with lights on, and then I heard 3 shots, I believe. I rushed over to see what happened in fear of cops, civilians or CDTs being injured, and I saw cop cars surrounding the intersection right by the Tivoli parking garage.
What prompted this response? Burnett told investigators that he was driving a marked police car when he received a report about a suspect in what was later described as a "homemade ninja outfit." As he approached the intersection of 9th and Walnut, he spotted the man, later identified as Musick, and dismounted from his vehicle.
"Police officer," Musick reportedly said. "I need to talk to you."
But what happened next didn't have anything to do with conversation, Burnett maintains.
Burnett says Musick drew the sword, prompting the officer to issue an order to drop the weapon while going into what he refers to as "defense mode."
Why? He says Musick began repeating, "I'm gonna get you! I'm gonna get you!" while "flailing" his sword around his head.
Burnett told investigators he tried to reason with Musick, but to no avail. An excerpt from the narrative:
Officer Burnett had moved to a position in the middle of the intersection when Musick raised the sword overhead and broght it "down with both hands." In Officer Burnett's words, Musick "literally tried to, uh, slice me in half, I guess." The word traveled so fast and hard that it struck the asphalt and "sparks flew."
In response, Burnett says he backed away and drew his weapon as Musick approached. Again, from the report:
I left[ed] my [left] arm up [demonstrating a defensive gesture] and I have a, he's coming at me, I have a clear sight picture. And I fire two shots. In sequence, he was still in motion forward, I fired a third shot and then that's when he stopped moving forward. And then I re-holstered my weapon.
Only afterward did Burnett realize that his hand had been gashed by the sword, presumably when he lifted his arm to defend himself.
A subsequent autopsy of Musick determined that while he registered a "presumptive positive for Cannabinoids," he had no other medication in his system -- potentially a problem in his case.
Continue for more about the shooting of Jeffrey Musick. The autopsy report on Musick notes that he had "a history of paranoid-type schizophrenia with visual hallucinations, audio hallucinations, and homicidal ideation; and non-compliance with medications. The decedent [has] been noted in the past to become psychotic when non-compliant with his medications."
Hence, a previous criminal history that includes arrests for menacing, carrying a concealed weapon, resisting arrest and second degree assault using what's described as "fluids" while in the custody of Sheridan Police. During his contacts with Denver police in 2011 and 2012, he was described using the following caution: "DRUG ABUSE, MENTALLY HANDICAPPED/DISTURBED/SUICIDAL."
Weighing all these factors, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey offered a conclusion that begins like so:
This tragic incident brings focus to two recurrent issues in use of force events, both of which often lead to public misperceptions. The first is the rapidity with which the events may unfold. The second is the lethality of edged weapons. Officer Burnett arrived at what he at first believed would be a situation where he would be called upon to warn someone about campus policy. Within moments, he was attacked by an adversary armed with a sword who was able to close the distance between them and injury him severely. Officer Burnett attempted to retreat and reason with Musick, without success. He then drew and fired his pistol. He stopped firing immediately when the threat ceased. The incident -- from the time Officer Burnett advised dispatch he was contacting a party to the time shots were fired -- took less time than it would take the average American reader to read this paragraph.
As such, Morrissey determined that "based on a review of the totality of the facts developed in this investigation, we could not prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that it was unreasonable for Officer Burnett to fire the shots that caused Musick's death. He only used deadly force when it was necessary 'to defend' against the imminent deadly threat posed by Musick and his actions were clearly justified under Colorado law. Therefore, no criminal charges are fileable against Officer Musick for his conduct in his incident."
One question not answered in the report: Why was someone with Musick's condition and past actions roaming the streets rather than receiving the sort of care that he appears to have so desperately needed?
Look below to see a collection of Musick mug shots assembled by 9News, followed by Morrissey's decision letter.