On August 5, 2019, in an incident eerily similar to the fatal gun-down of Colorado Springs teen De'Von Bailey two days earlier, Rifle police officer Dewey Ryan shot and killed Allan George as he jogged in the opposite direction.
George, the subject of an active arrest warrant, had a firearm in his possession at the time, but he'd only aimed it at himself and pocketed the weapon before his slow-motion attempt to flee ended with tragic results captured on video. Yet Ryan's actions were deemed justified last November in a review by 9th Judicial District DA Jefferson J. Cheney.
Following this determination, David Lane, an attorney for Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP, who represents George's family, promised that a federal lawsuit would be forthcoming, and the complaint filed late last month doesn't mince words. The document states that Ryan "murdered Allan George, after deliberation."
According to Lane, this word isn't being used cavalierly. "The definition of murder is the unlawful, premeditated taking of a human life," he says, "and that's exactly what happened here."
The plaintiffs in the suit include the City of Rifle, Ryan and Rifle Police Chief Tommy Klein. In response to Westword's inquiry, Rifle City Manager Scott Hahn states via email: "Officially we have no comment on pending litigation."
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DA Cheney's decision letter begins with George's criminal history. In Lake County "around 2009," it reveals, he pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation of a child, an offense that required him to register as a sex offender for four years. He successfully completed the terms of his sentence, but on April 10, 2019, he was pursued by investigators for alleged possession and distribution of child pornography. After the inquiry established probable cause, a judge issued the aforementioned arrest warrant. Its date: August 5.
At approximately 7:11 p.m. that evening, Ryan and his partner, Officer Shelby McNeal, spotted George's work truck on Highway 13, just off Interstate 70, and executed a traffic stop. Once outside the vehicle, George is said to have "reached behind his back and retrieved a handgun," which he "moved around his body, sliding the barrel along his abdomen up to his chest" in a manner that suggested he intended to harm himself.
Much of the dialogue recounted in DA Cheney's letter strikes a similar theme. Among the things George is reported to have said: "I'm not going to jail! I'm not going to be a sex offender!" and "I'm not talking about shit! It's over! Don't you get it? It's over!"
Here's a video of the exchange. (Warning: The contents may disturb some readers.)
By Cheney's count, Ryan ordered George to put the gun down "at least 34 times," and McNeal echoed this command "at least twelve times" over nearly ten minutes. Finally, the letter states, "Mr. George patted his right front pocket, presumably to ensure his handgun was still in his pocket, then turned northward toward downtown Rifle and began to run away from the officers. As he ran, he still possessed the handgun, but left his wallet, some cash, two knives and his eyeglasses behind. As Mr. George ran away toward downtown Rifle, Corporal Ryan then moved forward, shooting Mr. George with his patrol rifle two times in the back."
In his analysis of the facts, Cheney notes that George said on multiple occasions that he would "not go back to jail" and refused to be arrested; his adult daughter subsequently told investigators that her father felt he'd "disgraced" his "family name."
Cheney also asserts that "engaging in a foot pursuit of Mr. George was inherently unsafe and extremely dangerous," despite the very modest speed at which he was moving, because he was still armed and could have shot very quickly. "Although both officers stated that Mr. George never directly pointed the handgun at them, nothing prevented him from doing so in a split second and firing at the officers or other innocent citizens," he says in the decision letter.
In his list of legal reasons for declining to charge Ryan, Cheney quotes from a Colorado statute colloquially known as the "fleeing felon" law. (Last December, lawyer Darold Killmer, Lane's partner, specifically blasted the use of this language as a rationale to kill George, deeming the interpretation unconstitutional.) In addition, he quotes two passages from the landmark 1985 U.S. Supreme Court case Tennessee v. Garner: "Where the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical injury, either to the officers or others, an officer may use deadly force," and "If a suspect threatens the officer with a weapon or there is reason to believe that the suspect had committed a crime involving serious physical harm, deadly force may be used if necessary to prevent escape, and, if where feasible, some warning has been given."
Irony alert: The lawsuit against Rifle quotes from Tennessee v. Garner, too, highlighting a passage that Lane and company see as more applicable to what really happened to George. It reads:
The use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is constitutionally unreasonable. It is not better that all felony suspects die than that they escape. Where the suspect poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to others, the harm resulting from failing to apprehend him does not justify the use of deadly force to do so. It is no doubt unfortunate when a suspect who is in sight escapes, but the fact that the police arrive a little late or are a little slower afoot does not always justify killing the suspect.
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"Tennessee v. Garner says the only lawful use of lethal force is if an officer reasonably believes the person is a threat," Lane elaborates. "And the video shows he never posed a danger to anyone but himself — and even that was mitigated because he put the gun in his pocket and was jogging away from the scene."
As for Cheney's suggestion that George was still a risk because he could have pulled the gun out at any time, Lane argues that "anybody with a gun in their pocket could pull it out and kill innocent people. We can't go around killing people just because they have a gun in their pocket and may be suicidal." Moreover, George "seemed to be suicidal but thought better of it. So the police essentially said, 'Wait a minute. You can't commit suicide. We're here to do that for you.' And that's generally not a good solution for dealing with a suicidal person."
In Lane's view, "Any reasonable jury will look at the video and believe what happened was murder. That's why we filed the case — and I believe it will cost the taxpayers of Rifle, Colorado, several million dollars."