Denver police officers who shot and killed a man last year after they say he pointed a handgun at them were justified in their use of deadly force, prosecutors announced Thursday.
Denver District Attorney Beth McCann wrote “a jury would find that these officers had lawful justification to fire at Mr. (Colton) Wagner in defense of their fellow officers and in self-defense,” in a decision letter to Denver police Chief Paul Pazen.
Officers with the Denver Police Department responded to multiple calls about shots being fired in Martin Luther King Jr. Park on June 4, 2021. When they arrived at the scene, they found Wagner, 31, standing next to a Jeep Grand Cherokee, leaning into the vehicle, according to McCann’s letter.
The officers took up positions behind their patrol cars and other vehicles along the east side of the park and “gave the suspect verbal commands,” McCann wrote.
They saw Wagner stand up from the passenger side of the Jeep holding a handgun, which he put to his head as officers ordered him to drop the weapon, according to the letter.
Wagner lowered the weapon to his side, then turned it toward the officers and began walking toward them with his gun raised at the police, according to McCann’s account.
At that point, McCann wrote, three officers — Cpl. Matthew VanPortfliet, Officer Kimberly Blanchard and Cpl. Christopher Williams — fired at Wagner and he fell to the ground.
Wagner was taken to Denver Health Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead with a single gunshot wound to the chest, according to the letter.
Under Colorado law, “a person is justified in using physical force upon another person in order to defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by that other person,” McCann noted in the letter.
“At the moment they discharged their firearms, these officers reasonably believed that they were in danger of being killed or receiving serious bodily injury,” McMann wrote.
Investigators reported that Wagner did not have a criminal history. He was a veteran with a history of mental health issues that worsened in the weeks leading up to the incident, his family told police, according to McCann’s letter.
“This incident understandably terrified many people who were at and around the park that day,” McMann said in a news release. “After reviewing all of the evidence, this was a very clear example of how officers followed their training and (stopped) a bad situation from becoming worse. I conclude that these officers’ actions were legally justified.”