A grand jury is currently considering whether charges should be pressed in the August 3 death of De'Von Bailey, a nineteen-year-old from Colorado Springs who was shot in the back by a police officer while Bailey was running away. But another prosecutor has already decided against criminal accusations for a Rifle police officer who shot and killed Allan George two days later, on August 5, under eerily similar circumstances. George was also fleeing when he was felled by two bullets fired from behind.
In his decision letter, 9th Judicial District DA Jefferson J. Cheney said that Corporal Dewey Ryan, who twice pulled the trigger, and Officer Shelby McNeal, also on the scene, were essentially justified in their actions because they were very patient with George, repeatedly asking him to put down a gun in his possession — and while he only trained the weapon on himself rather than the officers or any witnesses in the vicinity, he could have switched targets at any moment.
George family attorney David Lane, of Denver-based Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP, the firm that also represents Bailey's kin, is aghast at Cheney's logic.
"This DA has misrepresented the state of the law," Lane argues. "He has twisted and tortured the facts of the case in such a way to bend over backwards — to do triple back flips — to avoid charging this cop."
The 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 an arrest warrant in his name. The date: August 5.
At approximately 7:11 p.m. that evening, cops Ryan and 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 quoted as having 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 slow 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.
Use of a taser was ruled out, Cheney notes, because of the distance between George and the officers, and the possibility that he could have shot them or someone else before the device's charge took effect.
The DA's letter ends with this: "In conclusion, Allan Thomas George is a human being and is now dead. No death which occurs during a law enforcement contact should be dismissed without serious consideration of the appropriateness and legal permissibility of law enforcement's actions. I have thoroughly reviewed the circumstances leading up to, and at the time of, Mr. George's death and the applicable law related to the use of deadly force by a peace officer. Based on the totality of the circumstances described herein and the prevailing legal principles related to 'use of force' by law enforcement, I decline to charge anyone with a crime for the death of Allan Thomas George, which occurred Monday, August 5, 2019."
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Lane points out that the investigation into the incident was led by Matthew Jenness, a member of the Garfield County Sheriff's Department, with assistance from Brooks Bennett, a Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent. "When the police investigate the police, it usually works out pretty well for the police," he maintains. "This is a corrupt system that allows this to occur."
In Lane's view, "There needs to be a statewide, independent investigator who deals with police misconduct that rises to a criminal level. It needs to be taken out of the hands of these corrupt local politicians with law degrees."
Asked if Cheney's determination might impact the filing of a lawsuit over George's death, Lane replies, "Not at all — and the timeline is not that long a line."
Click to read the Allan George Rifle police shooting decision letter.