Denver, CO – The Denver police officers who fatally shot a gunman after he pointed a firearm at them in Martin Luther King Jr. Park last summer were justified in their use of deadly force and will not face criminal charges, the district attorney has determined.
The incident occurred after the Denver Police Department (DPD) received multiple calls about a man firing a gun in the park at approximately 5:30 p.m. on June 4, 2021, The Denver Post reported.
At least eight civilians happened to be at the park when the shots were fired, KUSA reported.
Witnesses said the suspect fired towards at least three random people during the incident.
None of them were struck.
Police arrived at the scene and found 31-year-old Colton Wagner leaning into the passenger side of a parked Jeep Grand Cherokee, according to Denver District Attorney Beth McCann.
The officers positioned their patrol vehicles on the east side of the park about 90 feet away and used them as cover as they “gave the suspect verbal commands,” McCann said.
That’s when Wagner allegedly came out of the passenger side of the vehicle holding a gun, The Denver Post reported.
Wagner pointed the weapon at his own head as officers ordered him to drop it, McCann said.
The suspect eventually lowered the gun from his head, then began walking towards the officers with the gun pointed at them, according to the district attorney.
DPD Corporal Matthew VanPortfliet, Corporal Christopher Williams, and Officer Kimberly Blanchard all opened fire on the advancing gunman, The Denver Post reported.
McCann said a total of 14 rounds were fired by police, according to KUSA.
Wagner was shot once in the chest and collapsed onto the ground, The Denver Post reported.
He was rushed to Denver Health Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
“At the moment they discharged their firearms, these officers reasonably believed that they were in danger of being killed or receiving serious bodily injury,” McCann said. “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.”
The district attorney noted that “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” under Colorado state law, The Denver Post reported.
“All the officers involved reasonably believed that Mr. Wagner was about to shoot in their direction,” McCann said, according to The Denver Gazette. “It was reasonable for these officers to believe that they were facing an imminent and deadly threat.”
“This incident understandably terrified many people who were at and around the park that day,” the district attorney added, according to The Denver Post. “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.”
Investigators determined that Wagner did not have a prior criminal history, The Denver Post reported.
His family said he was a military veteran who struggled with mental health issues, and that his symptoms had worsened in the weeks leading up to the fatal officer-involved shooting, according to McCann.
Investigators recovered the suspect’s .45-caliber handgun and located a total of 24 .45-caliber casings throughout the area, KUSA reported.
They also found live ammunition both around the Jeep and inside of it.
An autopsy revealed that Wagner’s blood-alcohol content was .165 at the time of the incident, The Denver Gazette reported.