Loveland Reporter-Herald

Official: Deputies wont be charged in death

Man was shot in Loveland after vehicle pursuit from Berthoud in Nov.

- By Austin Fleskes afleskes@ prairiemou­

The 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office will not criminally charge three Larimer County Sheriff’s Office deputies who were involved in an incident in November that left one man dead, according to a letter to Sheriff John Feyen from DA Gordon Mclaughlin that was released Friday.

The incident took place on North Fairground­s Avenue just north of Crossroads Boulevard in the early morning of Nov. 21 following a pursuit starting in Berthoud, with deputies quickly firing into the vehicle in a situation one deputy described as having the potential to turn deadly in mere seconds.

The pursuit

At 12:08 a.m. Nov. 21, Deputy Justin Napolitano was conducting a proactive patrol at the Love’s Travel Stop just west of Interstate 25 on Colo. 56 in Berthoud, a location “Napolitano was aware … is a common location for illicit drug transactio­ns and had previously made drug related arrests there,” according to the letter.

He reportedly observed a silver Mazda sedan pull up to an out-ofservice gas pump and then move to another pump “after the driver observed Napolitano’s marked patrol vehicle,” according to the letter. The driver never exited the Mazda and instead drove off without obtaining gas; Napolitano suspected the Mazda was there for a drug transactio­n, according to the letter.

Shortly afterward, a gray Chevrolet truck, driven by Justin Anderson of Fort Collins, who would later be shot and killed by deputies, pulled up to a gas pump. Anderson did not exit the vehicle, and Napolitano observed that the truck had a headlight out and did not have a front license plate.

After Anderson appeared to notice the patrol vehicle, the letter added, Napolitano relocated to a more distant spot and continued to watch Anderson with binoculars.

Anderson, who never purchased gas according to the letter, “appeared to be frustrated”

and eventually drove away; Napolitano suspected Anderson was also there for a drug transactio­n and was perhaps intending to meet with the Mazda.

Napolitano followed Anderson as he drove east on Colo. 56, with the deputy claiming the Chevy was going approximat­ely 45 mph in a 35 mph zone. Anderson then allegedly navigated the roundabout­s “at excessive speeds” before turning onto I-25 northbound.

The deputy continued to follow Anderson and attempted to initiate a traffic stop for the headlight and speeding violations by turning on his lights and sirens. He advised dispatch on the radio that he was contacting the vehicle and explained he believed it was at the Love’s for a drug transactio­n, the letter said.

Anderson allegedly failed to stop and continued northbound, traveling between 70 and 80 mph. The letter claims that his driving “grew erratic” as he allegedly engaged in various evasive maneuvers, “passing vehicles on the right, and acting as if he were going to exit before swiftly returning to the interstate nearly striking a concrete barrier in the process.”

Dispatcher­s ran the plate and learned the truck was wanted for a separate eluding incident in Denver with Anderson’s name listed in the incident; the letter said the truck was registered to his mother.

Dispatch further advised that Anderson had six active felony warrants related to larceny, dangerous drugs and traffic violations, according to the letter.

Napolitano was eventually able to pull next to the truck, reporting to dispatch that the driver was a white man with no facial hair and blond spikey hair, a descriptio­n that matched the Denver incident and the warrants.

Additional deputies, including Jonathan Wedemeyer and Jamie Smith, began to assist in the pursuit of Anderson. Wedemeyer provided radio updates and later assumed the primary pursuit position since his vehicle was better suited to perform a precision immobiliza­tion technique — a move used to stop fleeing vehicles in a pursuit — should that become necessary.

At about 12:15 a.m. Anderson exited I-25 at Crossroads Boulevard in Loveland and drove east, according to the letter. He eventually turned north on North Fairground­s Avenue and, as this happened, Wedemeyer performed a PIT maneuver, causing the truck to spin counterclo­ckwise up over a large median and stop, facing to the southeast, according to the letter. Napolitano immediatel­y pulled his patrol vehicle onto the median face to face with the truck, while Wedemeyer positioned his vehicle behind the Chevy to “pinch” it, according to the letter. Smith initially pulled her patrol vehicle alongside the driver’s side of Napolitano’s vehicle but quickly moved it to his passenger side in preparatio­n for a high-risk stop.

The shooting

Napolitano exited his vehicle and drew his duty weapon, later describing being able to see clearly into the truck. He said he could see Anderson’s back and that he was reaching behind the passenger seat with both hands; he said he believed Anderson was attempting to hide or ingest narcotics or trying to get a firearm.

Napolitano would later say he saw Anderson holding a gray rifle in his left hand and high-capacity magazine in his right hand. He said he believed the rifle would “defeat the soft armor he and other deputies wore,” according to the letter.

He claimed Anderson then brought the magazine up to the rifle and locked eyes with Napolitano, with the deputy believing Anderson was trying to load the rifle. He stated he was “convinced this was a deadly force situation and Anderson was a second away from shooting and killing him or other deputies.”

Napolitano then fired his duty handgun once, aiming at Anderson’s upper chest. He later said he believed the shot was effective as Anderson turned toward his right and leaned down toward the passenger seat.

He reported that, at this point, he could still see Anderson trying to load the rifle. He aimed his red dot from his handgun on Anderson’s nose and raised it slightly higher to account for possible windshield deflection; he fired a second shot at Anderson’s head, believing the shot also hit him, the letter said.

Napolitano would later describe still seeing the rifle in Anderson’s hand but, because the window had “spidered” open he could not tell if Anderson was moving. He said he moved the red dot from his gun slightly up and to the right and fired a third round at Anderson.

The full sequence of three shots took approximat­ely four seconds, according to the letter. Napolitano said that while he had intended to begin the interactio­n with verbal announceme­nts as he exited his car, the incident “evolved so quickly that he did not have time” to do so. Body camera footage, the letter said, showed Napolitano giving a single command, ordering Anderson to show his hands.

Following the third shot, the rear wheels of the Chevy began spinning rapidly, squealing and smoking. Napolitano said he believed Anderson had slumped against the accelerato­r, with the deputy moving out of the way of the truck to avoid being hit should the car dislodge from the median.

Wedemeyer, who was behind the Chevy, said he exited his car following the PIT maneuver and made his way around the driver’s side of the truck, eventually feeling glass hit his face from Napolitano shooting the windshield, according to the letter.

Wedemeyer saw the truck accelerate and drift backward into his patrol car. He later said he believed Anderson was attempting to flee and, fearing that Napolitano would be run over, fired his handgun at the driver’s side window of the truck and then again at the driver’s side door to try and stop Anderson from running over Napolitano.

In total, Wedemeyer fired five shots in approximat­ely five seconds, the letter said.

Smith also described seeing Anderson “struggling with something” in the center console of the truck. She, like Wedemeyer, feared that the truck was in danger of running over Napolitano and later claimed she “surmised that Anderson had to be somewhere in the driver’s compartmen­t” to reach the accelerato­r. She fired two, possibly three rounds, into the car, the letter said.

After this, Smith said the truck stopped moving.

At 12:39 a.m., deputies approached the truck and discovered Anderson “obviously deceased” with a gunshot wound to the head. Anderson’s feet were near the accelerato­r and his torso was leaning across the passenger seat. According to the letter, he was clutching a Ruger .22 caliber rifle in his left hand.

Mclaughlin’s ruling

When searching the vehicle later on, deputies found the rifle had one round in the chamber and 23 rounds in the magazine. They also allegedly found 49 suspected fentanyl pills in Anderson’s left jacket pocket along with drug parapherna­lia.

The letter also said a “likely bullet defect” was located in the roof of Anderson’s vehicle consistent with a round having been fired from inside the vehicle. The investigat­ion was unable to determine when this occurred, “however it remains possible it could be the result of Anderson dischargin­g the rifle during the altercatio­n,” the letter stated; no projectile was found in the search.

Mclaughlin wrote that, had Anderson survived the incident, he would have been charged with attempted first-degree murder, first-degree assault, felony menacing, vehicular eluding and possession of a controlled substance.

He also wrote that all three deputies had a reasonable belief the shooting was necessary and that nonviolent means would have been ineffectiv­e in stopping Anderson. He also ruled that verbal warnings would have “unduly placed … fellow officers at risk of injury or would have created a risk of death or injury to other persons.”

Mclaughlin ultimately ruled that no charges can or will be brought against any of the involved deputies in the incident.

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