DA’s letter: Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin cleared in 2001 shooting of unarmed suspect
In the wake of shooting a suspect in Tabernash early Tuesday morning, Sept. 15, Grand County Sheriff Brett Schoetlin released a statement declining to discuss the incident and forwarded a letter he says cleared him in the shooting of an unarmed suspect in 2001. "Due to standard procedure, I will not be releasing a statement or entertaining any questions about our critical incident from earlier today," Schroetlin wrote in an email Tuesday night. "However, due to some inaccurate information released to the media about my previous officer involved shooting in 2001, I have chosen to release the attached clearance letter from the Adams County DA Office that details the facts of this previous incident." His email did not elaborate on what inaccurate information had been released. According to the DA's 2001 letter and several reports, Schroetlin, working as a reserve officer with the Lochbuie Police Department in Weld County, shot DUI suspect Stephen Dennis after a high speed chase in November 2001. Dennis was unarmed. On Tuesday, Schroetlin shot Connor James MacLaird, 20, of Grand County after the suspect brandished a knife and began advancing on Schroetlin and other officers, according to an official press release. In the 2001 incident, the DA's letter relates Schroetlin's account of the incident in which he says Dennis approached to within 10 feet of him with his hands in his pockets, ignoring commands to stop and show his hands. "As Dennis continued to move rapidly toward the officer," the letter continues, "he stated, 'It's me or you, pig … come on, shoot me.'" The letter says Dennis was taller than 6 feet and weighed more than 250 pounds. Dennis told CBSDenver 4News that he had his hands above his head and was surrendering when Schroetlin shot fired three shots, hitting him in the midsection and hand. Dennis told CBSDenver 4News he still has a bullet in his hip from the incident. The 2001 DA's letter says Dennis was driving on a revoked license at the time and had a blood alcohol content of 0.132. A motorist is considered intoxicated in Colorado with a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher. In 2003, Dennis pleaded guilty to DUI and eluding as a result of the incident. The 2001 DA's letter also mentions an incident involving Dennis in October 1999 in which he is alleged to have ignored orders from a Brighton Police officer to show his hands and "Dennis 'suddenly spun around and crouched, reaching in the front of his coat,'" according to the officer. "Dennis stood up," the letter says, "with his hands in front of him as if he was holding a gun pointed at the officer, and yelled, 'shoot me.'" In that incident, Dennis was arrested on charges of vehicular eluding, reckless driving, resisting arrest and DUI, according to the DA's letter. Ultimately, the DA cleared Schroetlin in the Dennis shooting. "Officer Schroetlin was justified in his reasonable belief that he had to discharge [his] firearm in order to defend himself from imminent danger of death or great bodily harm," the letter concludes. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office, the Colorado State Patrol, the Granby Police Department and the Fraser-Winter Park Police Department are investigating Tuesday's incident, which took place at an apartment building in Tabernash known as the Fireside. A man who emailed the Sky-Hi News that he was awakened by a flashlight shining in his window at about 1 a.m. Tuesday, wrote that he heard officers yell "Show me your hands!" several times just prior to hearing what he described as four rapid gunshots. "Sheriff Schroetlin discharged his handgun at MacLaird when MacLaird refused to drop a knife he was brandishing at the officers while he advanced toward their location," according to an official press release about the incident. Schroetlin, who was accompanied by the police dog he handles, three deputies and a Fraser-Winter Park Police officer at the time, immediately placed himself and the deputies on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure in police shootings. None of the officers was injured. Authorities have described MacLaird's injuries as non-life-threatening. As of Wednesday morning, MacLaird, who was airlifted to a Denver area hospital Tuesday morning, had not been charged with any crimes stemming from the incident. When the shooting occurred, MacLaird was considered a suspect in a reported burglary at Snooty Coyote Liquors in Tabernash. Authorities are encouraging anyone with information related to the incident to call 14th Judicial District Chief Investigator Doug Winters at 970-824-9175.