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Why Video of Deadly Police Shooting Still Isn't Public Almost a Year Later

The portrait of Nicholas "Nick" Ryan that accompanied his obituary.
The portrait of Nicholas "Nick" Ryan that accompanied his obituary.
Courtesy of the Ryan family

The release of body-camera video captured during officer-involved shootings in Colorado is highly inconsistent. Note that such footage in the August 3 death of Colorado Springs's De'Von Bailey was shared in mere weeks, likely because of the appearance of another clip showing the nineteen-year-old being struck from behind as he fled. But video captured during the fatal police shooting of Josh Vigil, also in the Springs, still hasn't been delivered even though he was killed weeks earlier than Bailey — a span during which his family has repeatedly asked to see it.

The delay has been much longer in the case of Nicholas Ryan, also nineteen. Ryan died at the hands of Douglas County deputies in November 2018, but his stepmother, Kasey Ryan, says she and her wife, Dixie Ryan, Nick's mother, still haven't been given access to the video or even many of the documents related to the incident in the ten-plus months since his passing. And that's not all.

"I was physically escorted out of the Douglas County courthouse building one time because I wanted a police report," she recalls. "I was like, 'There should be a public record.' And they told me it was an ongoing investigation and I had to evacuate the premises."

The inquiry remains active due to the continuing prosecution of Jason Sutton and Peirce Langewisch, the two other individuals with Ryan when he suffered lethal wounds while behind the wheel of an SUV in the vicinity of Dry Creek Road and Interstate 25. Both are scheduled for arraignment hearings this month — Sutton on October 11, Langewisch on October 28.

Prosecution of shooting survivors doesn't automatically mean body-camera video and other evidence must be kept under wraps. For example, nineteen-year-old Lawrence Stoker, who was with Bailey, his cousin, at the time of the aforementioned shooting, is facing a charge of third-degree assault in the matter. A judge allowed the case against Stoker to move forward during a September 27 hearing; he's due back in court on October 18.

But the approach is different for attorneys employed by the 18th Judicial District, where Sutton and Langewisch are being prosecuted. "In this jurisdiction, the District Attorney’s Office does not release evidence or documents in open cases — we defer to the court," notes spokesperson Vikki Migoya, corresponding via email. "We urge our law enforcement agencies to do the same."

Booking photos of Jason Sutton and Perice Langewisch. Note that the swastika on Langewisch's neck isn't a tattoo but was drawn on with a marker.EXPAND
Booking photos of Jason Sutton and Perice Langewisch. Note that the swastika on Langewisch's neck isn't a tattoo but was drawn on with a marker.
Douglas County Sheriff's Office

According to Migoya, the office strictly follows the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct, blessed by the Colorado Supreme Court. In terms of pre-trial publicity, lawyers are advised to limit releases to "the claim, offense or defense involved and, except when prohibited by law, the identity of the persons involved; information contained in a public record; that an investigation of a matter is in progress; the scheduling or result of any step in litigation; a request for assistance in obtaining evidence and information necessary thereto; a warning of danger concerning the behavior of a person involved, when there is reason to believe that there exists the likelihood of substantial harm to an individual or to the public interest; and in a criminal case...the identity, residence, occupation and family status of the accused; if the accused has not been apprehended, information necessary to aid in apprehension of that person; the fact, time and place of arrest; and the identity of investigating and arresting officers or agencies and the length of the investigation."

Likewise, the rules urge prosecutors to "make no extrajudicial comments and to prevent law enforcement from doing so except for statements that are necessary to inform the public of the nature and extent of the prosecutor's action and that serve a legitimate law enforcement purpose." They're also discouraged "from making extrajudicial comments that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused."

In the absence of video, the decision letter written by 18th Judicial District DA George Brauchler to Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock stands as the main release about Ryan's death to date. In the missive, issued in April and accessible below, Brauchler found the actions of Douglas County deputies Nicholas Arnone, Anthony Weiss, Joshua Anderson, Justin Ruisi and Blake Davis to have been justified.

The letter states that Arnone "observed a suspicious vehicle run a red light on South Broadway" at 3:02 a.m. last November 27. He began following the ride after sparking to the presence of "a fleet license plate" on the car, a Jeep Grand Cherokee, since he'd heard earlier in the evening about the theft of several rental vehicles in the area.

Shortly thereafter, the Infinity is said to have started weaving, prompting Arnone to activate his lights and siren. But instead of stopping, the vehicle zoomed onto C-470 at speeds estimated at between 100 and 120 miles per hour. The Infinity later exited onto Park Meadows Drive and one occupant — authorities believe it was Langewisch — allegedly began shooting at Arnone, who momentarily backed off. However, he was able to radio for help, and deputies Weiss and Anderson responded by setting up a position on Park Meadows Drive and opening fire on the Infinity as it passed. Weiss shot seven times, Anderson three.

Emergency responders near Dry Creek and I-25 in the aftermath of the shooting.
Emergency responders near Dry Creek and I-25 in the aftermath of the shooting.
Fox31 via YouTube

More deputies, including Ruisi and Davis, got involved shortly thereafter, and additional shorts were fired before the Infinity high-centered on a median between the eastbound and westbound lanes of Dry Creek Road near the I-25 overpass. At that point, the deputies could see Langewisch and Sutton, who was bleeding from the face, but not Ryan. The document maintains that when Langewisch and Sutton didn't immediately show their hands, as directed, Arnone and Davis shot into the car again.

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A short time later, Langewisch, who was uninjured, and Sutton, who'd taken a bullet in the head but survived, surrendered. But Ryan is described to have been "unresponsive and slumped against the steering wheel. His wounds were fatal." A subsequent investigation determined that Ruisi shot Sutton, but it's unclear whose bullets killed Ryan. Although he was hit multiple times, the decision letter says "evidence...is inconclusive because no bullets were recovered in Ryan's body."

The body-cam footage is unlikely to solve this mystery. Kasey has been in touch with a private investigator working on the case, and she's been told that because a number of deputies weren't wearing cameras, there's no footage of the shooting itself, not to mention some extended stretches of what she describes as "radio silence." But she and her wife want to see and hear everything available in order to find out if Nick was forced at gunpoint to evade police, as well as to gauge whether cops made any attempt to de-escalate the situation, or if they simply shot first and asked questions later. She's also concerned that this wasn't the first fatal incident for Arnone. He was among the defendants in a recently dismissed wrongful-death lawsuit on behalf of Jayson Jenkins, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot after being tased while holding his rifle near his mouth.

The Ryans have filed paperwork informing authorities of their intent to launch a lawsuit over Nick's death — an action that gives them up to two years from filing to do so. Kasey stresses that they're not interested in money, but accountability. "We understand those boys were doing shit they weren't supposed to be doing," she says, "but I also think Douglas County was doing shit they weren't supposed to be doing. We don't think Nick should've died."

Click to read the 18th Judicial District DA's officer-involved shooting letter about the Nicholas Ryan incident.

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