Ex-Cop James Ashby's Journey From Rage-aholic to Murderer

In October 2014, Jack Jacquez was killed by James Ashby, a member of the Rocky Ford Police Department. Afterward, Ashby was charged with murder — a rare occurrence for a police officer whose actions had taken place while he was on the job. Yet the shooting didn't get much national attention until April 2015, and only then because of a higher-profile case; South Carolina Patrolman Michael Slager was arrested for murder after gunning down Walter Scott, an unarmed man originally pulled over for a traffic infraction, in an incident caught on video.

Slager's trial is expected to get under way next year, but Ashby has already faced justice. He was convicted in June, becoming the first Colorado police officer to be found guilty of an on-duty homicide (specifically second-degree murder) in recent memory — though the sentence he received may strike some observers as far too modest under the circumstances.

Now, Jacquez's estate is suing the City of Rocky Ford over the shooting, and the allegations in the complaint are absolutely staggering. The suit, on view below, brands Ashby, who is also a named defendant (along with Chief Frank Gallegos), as a "second-chance cop" — an officer who was hired by the Rocky Ford department even though he "had been the subject of multiple internal affairs investigations and was ineligible for rehire from his previous law enforcement employer."

Even more shocking are the lawsuit's accounts regarding alleged examples of verbal and physical rage by Ashby that took place in the months and years before he killed Jacquez. In one, he's said to have threatened to put a second bullet into the head of a man who'd already been shot in the face. In another, he's accused of arresting a suspect without probable cause, then brutally beating him in a holding cell.

Before joining the force in Rocky Ford, Ashby's law enforcement career, as depicted by the lawsuit, hardly qualifies as sparkling. He was fired from his position as a security guard at a Pueblo Kmart after a co-worker's complaint, and during his four years of employment as a member of the Walsenburg Police Department (from 2009 to 2013), he racked up plenty of demerits.

Among the items in his WPD personnel file are references to "very vulgar remarks" made to a female officer in violation of the department's sexual-harassment policy; a complaint from a motel owner who was threatened by Ashby after asking the officer to move his car; the account of a woman who was disturbed by Ashby's insistence that she repeat verbatim the contents of a sexually graphic phone call she'd received; details of an attack on a person who'd been in a bar fight that included punches, a knee to the face and the deployment of pepper-spray grenades; and the body-slamming of a woman that resulted in an internal-affairs investigation short-circuited by Ashby's decision to resign.

Nonetheless, Ashby was hired by the Rocky Ford Police Department in June 2014. But the lawsuit says he received no training about matters such as excessive force, constitutional rights or even how to apply for a warrant. Instead, he was taken to a firing range, where he shot off a "qualification round" and was informed about the department's "geographical jurisdiction."

In essence, the suit contends, Ashby was essentially handed a badge and told to "go police" — after which he allegedly continued his unprofessional and violent activities.

On August 2 of that year, the suit says Russell Price, who'd been shot in the face, flagged down Ashby's vehicle with his right hand while covering his wound with his left. But rather than immediately rendering aid, the narrative continues, Ashby put his gun against Price's head and used it to guide him to a curb — and when Price asked why he was being treated as a dangerous suspect rather than a victim, the complaint quotes Ashby as responding, "Shut the fuck up or I will put another bullet in your head."

No discipline was meted out to Ashby for these actions, but he did receive a written warning for a September 26 traffic stop; he allegedly used profane language (he said he wouldn't play any "small-town, bullshit games") in front of the driver's young son.

Then, on October 4, just over a week before he killed Jacquez, Ashby arrested two men, Jeremiah Ramsey and William Starks, at a local pub. The suit says he had no probable cause to take them into custody, and what followed was ugly. Starks was pepper-sprayed in the face and kneed in the back so hard that one of his ribs broke. For his part, Ramsey, who was busted on suspicion of DUI even though there was no evidence he'd been driving, was put into a holding cell, and when he questioned an order to remove his shoes, Ashby tackled him, slammed his head against the concrete floor and handcuffed him to a bench for three hours, the document states. Then, after Ramsey asked to speak with the chief of police, Ashby allegedly tackled him again, stomped on his foot, choked him and left him lying in a pool of someone else's vomit.

Somehow, Ashby was still in uniform at 2 a.m. on October 12, when, as we've reported, he pulled up outside a home near the intersection of Third Street and Swink Avenue in Rocky Ford.

The arrest affidavit in the case says that Ashby was on routine patrol, accompanied by a civilian on a ride-along, when he saw Jacquez , whose criminal record was substantial but mostly minor (assault, receiving stolen property, marijuana possession, DUI), skateboarding in the middle of the street. Ashby maintains that he called to Jacquez, saying, "Hey, bro." To that, he said Jacquez responded, "Fuck you," then climbed off his skateboard and jogged to his house.

This account was contradicted by the civilian who'd been riding with Ashby — the brother of another police officer. He told investigators that Jacquez had not mouthed off to the officer.

Ashby followed Jacques inside without identifying himself as a police officer, the report allows. There, Jacques is said to have reached into a bag in what Ashby considered to be an aggressive manner, then walked away, ignoring what Ashby described as an order to "show me your fucking hands."

Later, Ashby told authorities that Jacquez reached for a baseball bat — his rationale for the officer to open fire on him, even though investigators believed he was not in a position to strike Ashby.

Relatives said Ashby shot Jacquez twice in the back while he was standing next to the latter's mother. Afterward, in what appears to have been one of his go-to moves, Ashby pepper-sprayed him, too.

Late last month, Ashby was sentenced to just sixteen years for his second-degree-murder conviction; the maximum penalty was 48 years. Afterward, Jack Jacquez's father was quoted as saying, “Something is better than nothing; some justice is better than no justice."

But the trouble Ashby brought to Rocky Ford isn't over for either Jacquez's still-mourning family or the city itself, which the lawsuit blames for making the tragedy possible by hiring Ashby in the first place.

Look below to see images of the crime scene from the original arrest affidavit, followed by the lawsuit.

Estate of Jack Jacquez v. City of Rocky Ford

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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