HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS — After longer than a two-month investigation, the district attorney for the First Judicial District concluded that there was no criminal activity in the fatal shooting of Joshua Stevens by Lt. John Stein and Chief Deputy District Attorney Heather Stein on April 1, in Hot Sulphur Springs.
The First Judicial District was requested to review the case by the Grand County District Attorney Brett Barkey, as it involved a lieutenant with the Grand County Sheriff’s Office and chief deputy district attorney with the Grand County District Attorney’s Office.
After the completion of the investigation by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the First Judicial District’s review of that investigation, the Sky-Hi News acquired the case files, including interviews with both of the Steins and witnesses to the incident as well as the recording of the Grand County dispatch tapes related to the incident.
The following is a summary of the incident derived from Grand County dispatch tapes, law enforcement interviews, lay-witness interviews, autopsy reports, and official reports of the investigation.
John and Heather Stein, who reside at the old Riverside Hotel on Grand Avenue in Hot Sulphur Springs with their four children who range in ages from infant to teenager, retired for the evening after watching the 10 p.m. newscast.
Their 8 year-old child fell asleep on the couch in the living room a few feet away from the front door, according to the Steins’ interviews. Their 12 year-old son went to bed, as well as their infant child. One child was away from home dog-sitting at another residence.
Lt. John Stein
The Steins awoke shortly before midnight on the night of April 1, by banging on their front door, which was described by John Stein during his interview as “loud and continuous.”
John Stein stated the banging was so loud it shook the walls of their home and he thought someone was trying to kick in the front door.
Lt. Stein collected his gun and went directly to the front door. When he opened the door, Stevens pushed his way into the residence, according to Lt. Stein’s interview statement.
Lt. Stein commented that Stevens was not invited into the residence and did not have the authorization to enter. Stevens reportedly yelled and screamed as he entered the home.
Lt. Stein tried pushing Stevens out of his home, though Stevens was not compliant and pushed Lt. Stein back into several objects in the living room.
Among bizarre exclamations Stevens made at that moment, he reportedly yelled, “I’m the archangel. I’m here to take care of it,” according to Lt. Stein’s testimony.
The struggle continued in the living room until Lt. Stein was able to get Stevens out of the residence, according to his statements.
Lt. Stein tried to calm Stevens down, but was unsuccessful, according to his interview. Stevens then pushed his way back into the residence and continued yelling, case files say. Stevens again referred to himself as the “archangel.”
During the altercation, Stevens called Lt. Stein “officer,” suggesting that Steven knew Lt. Stein was a law enforcement officer.
According to Lt. Stein’s statement, Stevens then handed Lt. Stein his wallet. Stevens then punched Lt. Stein in the face and the two started fighting inside the living room of the residence, just feet from where the Steins’ daughter, Trinity, was sleeping on the couch.
Up to this point, Lt. Stein reportedly kept his gun hand behind his back and defended himself with one arm, he said.
Lt. Stein reported he recalled thinking and yelling “get Trinity out” and “call 911,” to secure his family’s safety.
Lt. Stein’s statement says at that time he was fearful for his daughter, just feet away from the struggle, his other children, and his wife Heather Stein.
Lt. Stein was able to forcibly remove Stevens from his residence through the front door where he’d entered.
He then observed a white pickup truck across the street from his residence at the Post Office. Lt. Stein noticed Lynette Belt walking from her truck to the post office.
Stevens then reportedly started moving towards the truck. Lt. Stein, who stated he knows Belt, believed there were firearms inside that truck. Stevens made it to the door of the truck, where Lt. Stein again made contact with him and tried to subdue or control him.
Again, an altercation started between the two of them. Stevens was able to get away from Lt. Stein and reportedly made his way toward the Steins’ residence. Lt. Stein reported he believed Stevens was making another effort to enter his home, and was able to physically restrain Stevens before he entered the home.
The two began to fight again in front of the residence and Stein reportedly was unable to subdue or control Stevens.
“Mr. Stevens failed to respond to verbal commands, and eventually grabbed the handgun that Lt. Stein was still carrying. Lt. Stein yelled to Mr. Stevens to, ‘Let go of the gun, let go of the gun,’” the Bureau’s report states. Stevens reportedly refused to obey the command and did not release his grip on Stein’s firearm. Both Stein and Stevens then went to the ground, still fighting. Stein continued to command Stevens to let go of the gun. Stevens would not let go and continued to fight for control of the handgun. The two fought on the sidewalk, and at one point Stevens was able to get on top of Stein. Stein saw his wife, Heather, nearby. He feared for his safety, Heather’s safety, and that of his children, should Stevens succeed in taking his gun, the investigation’s report states. Stein was determined he was not going to allow Stevens to secure his handgun, and before losing his grip on his firearm, fired three times. “After a short period Mr. Stevens became still,” states the report.
Heather Stein awoke to the sound of loud banging at the front door. After her husband left the room she heard him yelling to someone to get out of the house and to calm down. According to Heather Stein, her husband sounded, “panicked.”
She checked on her baby, and then grabbed her glasses and her handgun and made her way to the living room where her daughter was still sleeping. While her husband was physically engaged with Stevens in the living room, she worked to get her daughter off of the couch, a few feet from the confrontation, and to a safer area.
Stein returned to the living room area where she called 911.
The dispatch tapes acquired by the Sky-Hi News confirm the first call to 911 was made by Heather Stein at 11:47 p.m. She stated “there is a guy outside screaming, and he will not… I think you need to send somebody over here now.”
Heather also stated during the first call to 911 that the man was banging on the door and yelling at her husband.
Her statement also says she heard Stevens refer to himself as an “archangel.”
She then observed Belt pull up in her truck across the street from her residence. She reported seeing Stevens “charging” at the truck, jumping around as her husband tried to calm him down. She then observed Stevens running back towards the front door of her residence. She reported Stevens did not make it into the residence and again became physically involved with her husband.
As she watched her husband and Stevens fight on the sidewalk and go to the ground, she reported hearing her husband say “let go of my gun, let go of my gun.”
She stated at that point she believed Stevens was going to kill her husband. She then grabbed Stevens around the neck to try and pull him off of her husband. She stated she knew Stevens was trying to get her husband’s gun, and then she heard two “pops.”
She stated at that point she thought her husband had been shot, and she was concerned for her safety and the safety of her children. She then pointed her gun at Stevens and fired a single shot.
She stated she was unsure whether she had actually pulled the trigger. Forensic evidence later showed she fired one round.
At 11:51 p.m. she made another call to 911.
During her second 911 call, Heather Stein sounded extremely distraught as she reported to the dispatcher there had been a shooting.
Another caller had called 911 seconds before Heather Stein’s second call, stating there had been a shooting and that the Steins were struggling with a man.
“Heather, who got shot?” the dispatcher asked after Heather Stein identified herself to the dispatcher.
Sounding extremely panicked, she said “I think the guy did, he was trying to shoot at John and he tried to grab John’s gun and…”
Heather was breathing heavily and talking quickly with panic in her voice to the dispatcher, who informed her that police were on their way.
The dispatcher again asked who got shot and Heather Stein replied “the guy who tried to come in our house.”
Another caller called and stated that Lt. John Stein had told her to tell dispatch to send an ambulance to the scene. Two other callers also called Grand County dispatch and reported hearing shots fired. The three unidentified callers and Chief Deputy Stein’s call were all received within five minutes after 11:51 p.m.
The dispatcher then asked, “Heather, is John OK?”
Heather then asked her husband if he was OK and received an affirmative reply.
“He says he is OK, but the other guy is (then barely audible) dead,” she said.
The dispatcher stayed on the phone with Heather until responding units arrived.
“Prior to the incident neither Lt. Stein nor Chief Deputy Heather Stein had ever met or encountered Joshua Stevens,” said the summary of the First Judicial District district attorney’s findings.
Both Steins received minor injuries during the incident, consisting primarily of bruises and abrasions.
Lynette Belt reported she got off of work at about 11:15 p.m. and drove to the post office to get her mail where she saw a man and a woman looking in the direction of the Steins’ residence.
She parked her vehicle, left it running, and got out to go inside. She reported hearing violent yelling in the area of the Stein residence.
She then reported seeing a man she did not recognize coming toward her. The man was Stevens.
She thought the man was going to get in her pickup truck.
She reported hearing the man saying he was the, “archangel of Jesus” and that he was on a “mission.” She also reported hearing him say, “help me, help me.” Belt stated she believed the man was drunk because he slurred his words and was stumbling as he walked.
Belt reported hearing Lt. Stein yell to Stevens in an attempt to keep him away from her truck. Belt opened the door to her truck and removed the keys from the ignition.
She then went into the post office to retrieve her mail, when she returned outside she reported seeing Stevens near her truck and Lt. Stein yelling at him to move away from her vehicle.
She said the men were “fighting like hell.”
During this time Belt reported hearing Lt. Stein yelling, “let go of my gun, let go of my gun, let go of my gun, you’re going to get shot.” Belt also noticed Heather Stein was near the doorway of the residence, just feet away from her husband and Stevens. Chief Deputy Stein was yelling, “stop! stop!” Belt said the fight lasted one to two minutes before she heard gunshots.
Joseph Connour and his girlfriend Kerby Horvath live across the street from the Stein residence to the south of the post office. Connour was a friend of Stevens and knew he had a drug problem, according to statements.
Connour invited Stevens to come to Colorado from his hometown in Coral, Mich., to help him get off drugs and provide assistance. Connour stated that Stevens arrived in Hot Sulphur Springs on March 25, and Stevens was at Connour’s residence the night of April 1.
According to Connour’s statements, Stevens was behaving somewhat erratically that night, particularly after Stevens had spoken on the phone with his girlfriend in Michigan.
Connour repeatedly asking Stevens to calm down, he reported to investigators, as he could see he was agitated. Stevens did not calm down and Connour described Stevens as having a look of “rage.”
Connour tried to physically restrain his friend, and when Stevens left his house, Connour refused to let him back in.
Kerby Horvath arrived at Connours home at about 11:30 p.m. that same night after she had gotten off work. She observed Stevens and described him as “fidgety, panicky, and agitated.”
Both Connour and Horvath saw Stevens go across the street to the Stein residence and begin pounding on the door.
Connour knew Lt. Stein opened the front door and heard him tell Stevens to calm down. He then reported hearing loud voices, but said he could not discern what was being said.
Connour reported seeing Stevens go to Belt’s truck.
“According to Joseph Connour, as Lt. Stein and Joshua Stevens moved from the area of the truck back toward the front of the Stein residence, he received a phone call from Mr. Steven’s girlfriend in Michigan. As Mr. Connour was walking back toward his house to speak with Mr. Steven’s girlfriend, he heard ‘let go of my gun’ and four shots,” the report from the district attorney of the First Judicial District says. Kerby Horvath also reported hearing “hey, let go of the gun” prior to gunfire.
In an effort to gain a clearer understanding of Joshua Steven’s reasons for being at the Steins’ resident that night, the Sky-Hi News has attempted on several occasions to contact Connour to speak with him personally, including visiting him in the Grand County jail where he is held due to an unrelated alleged crime. The Stevens’ family in Michigan has not returned two phone calls from the Sky-Hi News. The Sky-Hi has also contacted Stevens’ friends in Michigan, who generally described him as a family man with a kind heart. None knew of Stevens’ motives for being at the Steins’ that day.
Crime scene investigators with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation began processing the shooting scene at 7:34 a.m., according to the report, by taking photographs of the Stein’s injuries, collecting evidence from the scene, investigating the vehicles in front of the Stein’s residence, and processing the interior of the Stein residence after securing a search warrant.
Investigators located a .25 caliber FIE Titan semi-automatic pistol with a seven round magazine in Belt’s pickup truck, which was located in the center console of the vehicle.
Investigators also seized both handguns belonging to the Steins. It was determined that one round was fired from a .38 caliber Taurus (Heather Stein’s weapon) and three rounds were fired from a .45 caliber Sig Sauer (John Stein’s weapon) during the incident.
Stevens’s body was still laying in front of the Steins’ home with clothing cut away from his body at the time the Colorado Bureau of Investigation began processing the scene, according to the report. Medical response equipment was located on and near Stevens. Apparent gunshot wounds were visible on initial examination, the report says. Projectile fragments were also located on or near the body.
The CBI recovered three cartridge cases from the scene that were fired from the .45 caliber handgun and one cartridge case from the .38 caliber revolver. Four bullets were also located at the scene.
The autopsy of Stevens found that he sustained four gunshot wounds. The wounds were located at the right chest, left torso, abdomen, and left temporal scalp. The autopsy determined Stevens died from “multiple gunshot wounds of the torso.” The shot fired by Chief Deputy Stein would not have been fatal, the report said.
Toxicology results of Stevens came back positive for amphetamine, methamphetamine, oxycodone/oxymorphone, and cannabinoid.
After reviewing the CBI investigation, Peter Weir of the First Judicial District submitted his findings to Barkey on June 5, stating there was no criminal activity during the incident and that the Stein’s were reasonable in their use of deadly force against Stevens.
“It was not unreasonable for Lt. John Stein and Chief Deputy District Attorney Heather Stein to fear imminent death or serious bodily injury to themselves and their children, and to respond to Joshua Stevens in the manner that they did,” the report states.
“Based on the investigation of this incident, it is the final conclusion of my office that the legal requirements of the affirmative defense of self-defense were satisfied by Lieutenant Stein’s and Chief Deputy Heather Stein’s actions and their conduct did not violate any criminal statutes,” the report said.
Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334.