Dreion Dearing Prosecution for Death Penalty Challenges Governor-Elect Polis

A booking photo of Dreion Dearing.
A booking photo of Dreion Dearing. Adams County Sheriff's Office
Prosecutors in the 17th Judicial District DA's office will seek the death penalty against Dreion Dearing, who's accused of killing Adams County Deputy Heath Gumm on January 24.

At first blush, this move is unsurprising: Gumm died during a 42-day period from New Year's Eve 2017 to February 10, during which three law enforcement agents (and eight suspects) were killed during fourteen officer-involved shootings in Colorado. But it also has political repercussions. After all, Governor-elect Jared Polis is on record as opposing capital punishment, and has said that if the Colorado Legislature sent him a bill abolishing the practice, he would sign it.

At 6:48 p.m. on January 24, Adams County Sheriff's Office deputies, including Gumm, responded to a report of an assault in progress on or near the 8700 block of Dawson Street in Thornton. Shortly after their arrival, deputies contacted a male who matched the suspect description.

At that point, the suspect ran from the deputies and headed behind a house in the area. The deputies gave chase, and when they caught up with the suspect, he allegedly produced a handgun and opened fire. Gumm was struck in the chest and later died at Denver Health Medical Center. He was 32 years old.

Deputy Heath Gumm, as seen in a family photo. - ADAMS COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
Deputy Heath Gumm, as seen in a family photo.
Adams County Sheriff's Office
In the meantime, Gumm's colleagues were able to arrest the man thought to be the shooter; he had fled on foot after the deputy was struck. Shortly thereafter, multiple Denver news agencies revealed Dearing's name and published a previous booking photo, which clearly didn't thrill the ACSO. The agency tweeted: "Attention all media @9NEWS @FOX31 @CBS4_News @DenverChannel @denverpost Please remove any mug shot or reference to a suspect. You could be compromising a murder investigation."

Adams County Sheriff Mike McIntosh expanded on this theme at a subsequent press conference. "You may ask about a photo of the suspect we have," McIntosh told the assembled journalists. "You may ask about the name of a suspect we have. And I know that information is out there. But I am not going to confirm or deny that."

Nearly a week later, Adams County authorities issued a new mug shot of Dearing and released an arrest affidavit revealing that he had been found a short time after the shooting, hiding in a treehouse.

After that, the case went quiet, and it's stayed that way for the better part of a year. But that all changed on November 28, when Dearing was slated for a status hearing in regard to the charges arrayed against him: first-degree murder of a peace officer, first-degree murder of a peace officer after deliberation, first-degree murder after deliberation, felony murder, weapon possession by a previous offender, assault and burglary. In this context, Sue Lindsay, spokeswoman for the 17th Judicial District, confirmed that prosecutors will seek the ultimate punishment against Dearing.

A procession of vehicles transported Deputy Heath Gumm's body back to Adams County in January. - 9NEWS FILE PHOTO
A procession of vehicles transported Deputy Heath Gumm's body back to Adams County in January.
9News file photo
The likelihood of Dearing actually going to death row is remote. In recent years, local juries opted to sentence Aurora theater shooter James Holmes and Fero's Bar & Grill shooter Dexter Lewis, two mass killers targeted with the death penalty, to life without the possibility of parole.

And then there's Polis's stance on capital punishment.

"I feel it’s not cost-effective, it’s not an effective deterrent, and you know I do have a problem with some of the ways it’s been implemented from a racial-bias perspective as well,” he told 9News during the run-up to election day. The three men currently on Colorado's death row — Nathan Dunlap, Sir Mario Owens and Robert Ray — are all African-Americans. Dearing would make that tally four.

Contacted for this story, a spokesperson for Governor-elect Polis pointed toward other statements he has made on this topic: that he respects the current law, which allows capital punishment, and would evaluate any future matters related to the death penalty on a case-by-case basis.

This post has been updated to include additional comments made by Governor-elect Jared Polis regarding the death penalty.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts