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Lawsuit Over Police Killing of CU Student Sam Forgy Was Dismissed

Sam Forgy
Sam Forgy
File photo
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Last year, Glen Forgy filed a lawsuit over the death of his son, Sam Forgy, a University of Colorado student who'd been fatally shot by a Boulder police officer in 2015 while he was naked, on acid and armed with a hammer. But a few months ago, quietly and without ballyhoo, the suit was dismissed. And surprisingly, the person who requested that the matter be dropped was David Lane, the attorney who represented Glen.

Why? "In the search for the truth, it appeared that this was a justifiable shooting," Lane says. "Based on that, we dismissed voluntarily."

This decision represents a huge turnaround from the language in the original complaint, which named the City and County of Boulder and Officer Dillon Garretson, who shot Sam four times, including in the middle of the forehead.

According to the suit, Sam, a native of Moline, Illinois, was a voracious learner with a biting wit and a keen sense of humor. However, he had trouble both socially and academically until he was diagnosed with a non-verbal learning disorder that sometimes caused him to erupt with anger. Thanks to the help of medication, an individualized learning plan and a counselor who recommended a series of coping mechanisms, he began to flourish, in part because of a growing fascination with complex math. After graduating from high school, he moved to Colorado, and in 2014, he was admitted to the Department of Applied Mathematics at CU Boulder and seemed on his way to a promising career — until the events of July 27, 2015.

Sam Forgy and his maternal grandmother.
Sam Forgy and his maternal grandmother.
Courtesy of Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP

That day, Sam's behavior was odd enough to make three friends who were hanging out at his apartment at 1841 19th Street in Boulder think he might have taken a hallucinogen, and they were right. Post-mortem toxicology reports revealed that he had both LSD and marijuana in his system.

During the evening of the 27th, Sam's worrisome actions progressed. He's said to have paced around the apartment, mumbling nonsensically before vomiting and returning to his room. Then, at around 10 p.m., he emerged totally naked and kept making rambling remarks — he said something about being the messiah — before smashing a chair against a wall and hurling parts of it at his friends, apparently because he felt they were ignoring him.

The trio subsequently wrestled Sam to the floor in the hopes of getting him to calm down, and at first their methods seemed to work. But once they released him, he grabbed a knife and began waving it around — and as they tried to disarm him, one of his friends was cut on the forehead and chin.

At that point, Sam's friends left the apartment. One of them subsequently dialed 911 and told the dispatcher that "Mr. Forgy was naked and out of his mind on drugs."

The police response to the reports about Forgy.
The police response to the reports about Forgy.
File photo via @jimhooley

Shortly thereafter, the suit's narrative continues, four members of Boulder's SWAT team, including Officer Garretson, arrived at the scene and set up a tactical position on a switchback between the first and second floors. They ordered Sam to come out of the apartment, on the second floor of the building, and when he did so, he had a regular-sized carpenter's hammer in one hand. Upon being ordered to drop the weapon, he complied, but he later picked it up again and stood on the landing above where the officers were arrayed.

One of the SWAT crew responded by firing a Taser at Sam, but because only one of its two probes struck him, it failed to work — and within seconds, Garretson fired his service weapon four times. The first bullet entered Sam's brain through his forehead, while two other shots struck him in the chest and a third hit him in the shoulder and arm. After he collapsed, his naked body tumbled down two flights of stairs, the lawsuit reveals.

No charges were filed against Garretson over the incident, and attorney Lane told us around the time of the original filing that the folks at the Boulder City Attorney's Office saw the shooting as justified since the hammer Sam was holding qualifies as a deadly weapon. In the attorney's view, however, the fact that the responding officers carried Plexiglas shields and were clad in helmets and body armor greatly diminished the threat of injury or worse.

"I admire them for having shields and body armor to protect themselves, so they weren't defenseless against someone who was irrational and armed," he said in 2017. "But we're simply saying they should use reasonable force on a mentally ill person who's not immediately in an attack mode.... Even if he'd thrown the hammer down at them, or launched a full-scale attack, all 128 pounds of him, their body armor and shields would have protected them. At first glance, a hammer seems like a deadly weapon, but in this case, it wasn't. And Sam was killed anyway."

A graphic included with the lawsuit shows where Forgy had been standing in relation to the police.
A graphic included with the lawsuit shows where Forgy had been standing in relation to the police.
Courtesy of Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP

Today, Lane says his perspective on these matters was changed after getting together with Officer Garretson. "I did a deposition on him," Lane notes, and later, "we went out to the scene of the incident. And we saw that he was standing in a very vulnerable spot. Sam was attempting to climb over the railing and it looked like he was about to launch into space to land on this guy — and he had a hammer in his hand, which can be a deadly weapon."

Moreover, Lane goes on, "if officers are reasonably in fear of imminent bodily injury or death, like someone jumping off a balcony on top of you and threatening you with a hammer, they can use deadly force. And since it appeared there was no readily available escape route for the officer, it looked to us that he was justified in using deadly force."

Lane declines to characterize Glen's feelings about this conclusion. But he says that "given these facts, he agreed the lawsuit should be dismissed."

Click to read the original Sam Forgy complaint and jury demand.

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