A jury recently found that the actions of a deputy who shot and paralyzed Cody Cox during a bizarre incident on Interstate 70 near Georgetown four years ago were legally justified. But while Cox's lawyer offers praise for jurors, who he says "paid close attention and took their job seriously," he also expresses frustration over their verdict and a system that he sees as being weighted in favor of trigger-pulling law enforcers.
"Most of the time, officers follow their training and handle things in a proper, professional manner," acknowledges attorney Jim Scherer. "But occasionally these things occur — and I believe there can be a tendency for people to give the officer more of a benefit of the doubt in these circumstances than perhaps they should be entitled to."
Attorney Gordon Vaughan, who represented Clear Creek County Deputy Don Wilson in the case, sees things differently. He previously told us that while Wilson feels badly that Cox is now a tetraplegic (he has the use of one arm, but is otherwise paralyzed from the neck down), the injury was caused by "the choices Mr. Cox made — and the lack of choices he gave Deputy Wilson."
Scherer doesn't shrug off Cox's decision to get behind the wheel on January 31, 2014, after consuming enough booze to raise his blood-alcohol-content level to .237, nearly triple the legal standard for intoxication, or the dangerous manner in which he spun and swerved his way through busy ski traffic, endangering everyone else in his vicinity.
"He was having some issues: His dad had died recently and he was taking it very badly," he notes. "But there's really no excuse for Mr. Cox's driving behavior that day. He should have been arrested, taken into custody and dealt with according to the law."
A bullet circumvented this process. Vaughan said Deputy Wilson, who'd never before fired his duty weapon in a thirty-plus-year career, "was about to be crushed between his vehicle and Mr. Cox's vehicle" after leaving his patrol car and moving toward the suspect on foot. However, Scherer maintains that Cox was boxed in by other cars, and police dispatch records showed that "they all sat there for about a full minute. A lady in front saw little movement by Mr. Cox's vehicle and no attempt to escape. But then Deputy Wilson stepped out of his vehicle, and evidence presented at trial showed that he fired about three seconds later — and it appears that the gun was inside the passenger compartment."
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Summing up his argument in court, Scherer says, "We're governed by the rule of law in this country. Mr. Cox is answerable to the law for his conduct, and Deputy Wilson is also answerable to the law — even more so, in some ways, because police officers have taken an oath to uphold the law. That's why I believe this situation could have and should have been handled without shooting Mr. Cox. I'm skeptical of the necessity to do that."
The jury disagreed. But Scherer feels that the proliferation of police shootings in Colorado and the country as a whole "is a problem, and there are mechanisms under the law to address this problem. The law needs to be enforced."
He adds, "There should be more public scrutiny on these types of incidents. They are rare, but when they happen, they need to be responded to, and the officers need to be held to account."