CU Boulder student Sam Forgy was shot and killed by police in July 2015 when he was naked, on acid and armed with a hammer. Afterward, Forgy's friends raised questions about the use of lethal force in the incident, and now his father, Glen Forgy, is suing the City and County of Boulder and Officer Dillon Garretson, who shot Sam four times, including in the middle of the forehead. In the suit, Glen argues that the death of his son was completely unnecessary.
"The police are allowed to use deadly force if they're in reasonable fear of imminent bodily injury or death," acknowledges attorney David Lane, who represents Glen. "But it isn't a one-size-fits-all type of analysis. In this case, police had Plexiglas shields and they were wearing helmets and body armor — and Sam was at the top of the stairs. But Officer Garretson shot and killed him anyway."
As Lane notes, Sam "wasn't exactly a 260-pound linebacker." He stood five-five and weighed 128 pounds — and his main power was intellectual.
"While working toward a degree in applied mathematics, [Sam] was a math tutor," a friend of his wrote to us after his death. "He also worked on a couple of summer projects linked with NASA in which he, along with a team of other college students, launched weather balloons with various sensors and experimental materials into the upper reaches of the atmosphere. Recently he was selected to be on a team investigating the plausibility of using something that essentially amounts to a tractor beam as a way of manipulating the paths of orbiting satellites."
According to the lawsuit, which is accessible below, 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 in school until he was diagnosed with a non-verbal learning disorder that sometimes caused him to erupt with anger. Thanks to the help of prescribed 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.
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."
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-size 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 says the folks at the Boulder City Attorney's Office see the shoot as justified since the hammer Sam was holding qualifies as a deadly weapon. Still, Lane thinks it's "interesting that only one of the police officers fired his gun. Nobody else felt the need to fire a gun — and one of the other officers fired his Taser instead."
Sam had "demonstrated his violence when he slashed his roommate with a knife," Lane concedes. "And the police have every right in the world to take whatever steps necessary to protect themselves. But they're not authorized to take unnecessary steps to protect themselves — like killing him."
The lawsuit rejects the notion that this particular officer-involved shooting was an isolated incident. The document cites other fatal police encounters in a section labeled "Boulder’s Custom and Practice of Excessive Force," including two covered in this space: the 2013 case involving Michael Habay, who was fatally shot amid a mental-health crisis, and the killing of Bryson Fischer near Boulder Creek on a Sunday afternoon in May 2016. Also referenced are two other police shootings in recent years: the 2014 wounding of Coleman Stewart, who was injured by cops after drunkenly grabbing a BB gun, and Brandon Simmons, shot at CU Boulder's Champions Center while wielding a machete last October. Simmons was "suffering from significant mental health and chemical abuse issues" when he was killed, the lawsuit allows.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Sam's death while on drugs further illustrates a problem that includes Boulder but goes well beyond it, Lane says: "The police nationwide need to get training in intervention for people in mental-health crises — which is no different than when someone is behaving irrationally because they're on drugs. We see these kinds of situations over and over again across the country, and it always ends in death for the person with mental illness."
In Lane's opinion, the Boulder police did do something right when it came to dealing with Sam. "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 stresses. "But we're simply saying they should use reasonable force on a mentally ill person who's not immediately in an attack mode."
Whether Sam would have gone after the cops on that night two years ago this month is unknown. But Lane says "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."
Click to read the complete Sam Forgy complaint and jury demand.