Zach Gifford Trial Settlement Update in Kiowa County, Colorado
The family of Zachary Gifford, 39, filed a lawsuit last October over his fatal 2020 shooting by two members of the Kiowa County Sheriff’s Office – an incident that shattered the small Colorado town of Eads (population: 672listen)) where he was a highly regarded resident.
Such cases often drag on for years, and the circumstances of Gifford’s death were such that a settlement might well have been large enough to bankrupt Kiowa, among the state’s poorest counties, as well as Eads. , thereby imposing potentially huge tax increases on residents. , loss of service and more.
But Gifford’s parents — Carla Gifford, who taught kindergarten and special education at Eads, and Larry Gifford, a popular coach and physical education instructor who also served on the city council and school board — didn’t want to not punish their neighbors for the incalculable loss they had suffered. I had suffered. So, with their encouragement, John Holland and Anna Holland Edwards of Denver Holland, Holland Edwards & Grossmanwho represent them, have found a new way to speed up the process and avoid financial disaster.
With the cooperation of local authorities, Holland and Holland Edwards formed a panel of four civil rights attorneys – Andrew Ringel, Darold Killmer, Ed Budge and Bill Rogers – to hear the evidence in the case and determine a settlement amount that does not would not exceed the maximum. $10 million covered by Kiowa County insurance policy. After two days of hearings, panelists recommended a $9.5 million payout, just below the insurance cap, as a way to properly compensate the Giffords for their son’s death while giving Eads and Kiowa County a chance to move forward without a crippling financial burden.
Holland thinks the resolution was fair to everyone involved. “If we had appeared before a fully informed jury in a two or three week trial, we felt the damages would have exceeded the insurance policy, and we would not have been in a better position. than we are now,” he says. “There would always be capped politics, a poor county, and individuals who couldn’t afford to pay the kind of judgment that was deserved. So that was a unique and valuable way to resolve a very, very emotional case.”
Equally moving for Holland Edwards was the way the people of Eads reacted to the tragedy. The company collected 29 statements from people who celebrated Gifford, with many testimonies captured on video. “It was so heartwarming and surprising to see an entire community come together like this,” she says. “I’m used to parents, girlfriends or siblings being touched by a loss like this, but we’ve had several former teachers, neighbors, people from all walks of life come forward to saying who Zach really was and how bad what happened to him was. It was really impressive to me.
For Holland and Holland Edwards, an image symbolizes Eads’ collective affection for Gifford. After the shooting, the marquee at the community’s Crow-Luther Cultural Events Center was altered to display a single word: “Zach.”
The trial incident timeline begins on April 9, 2020, when Gifford agreed to help a friend, Bryan Morrell, unload a log splitter from a truck outside of Brandon, a place so small you locally called a ghost town. Neither was aware that Kiowa County Deputy Sheriff Tracy Weisenhorn was nearby, monitoring a home suspected of drug activity — and Gifford was allegedly a drug user. Weisenhorn later initiated a truck traffic stop on Main Street, a dirt road just off State Highway 96, on the grounds that Morrell had failed to properly signal a turn.
Deputy Sheriff Quinten Stump arrived soon after, though he was actually suspended at the time for what the complaint sums up as “insubordination”; he also had a habit of using force to prevent suspects from fleeing. Three examples are included in the lawsuit, including an episode on Christmas Day 2019, when he opened fire on a stolen truck. Still, Stump remained in the force, in part because “he was well known for being the main income earner for the sheriff’s office through fines generated by his extensive ticketing, which also provided substantial revenue on which the board of the county commissioners leaned for the county. expenses,” the suit states. “Deputy Stump has often been praised for going ‘above and beyond’ in its ‘dedication to traffic checks’.”
After the truck stopped, Gifford and Morrell were searched for weapons and nothing suspicious was found; a Leatherman, box cutter, and pliers owned by Gifford were tools of his trade. But Stump continued the search and eventually found a plastic bag in Gifford’s pocket which he believed might contain drugs. At this point Gifford started running, but he didn’t get far; Stump tackled him and Weisenhorn tasered him. But after Weisenhorn pressed his gun to his back and threatened to “fuck shoot,” Gifford managed to free himself again and ran into a deserted field. Weisenhorn responded by shooting Gifford in the back, and Stump joined in, hitting him a second time.
Gifford continued, unleashing a third shot which apparently missed. But a fourth shot, fired by Stump eighteen seconds after the previous shot, fell Gifford on the spot.
“They dropped him like wounded game, for doing nothing,” Holland said. Westword Last year. “And Zach’s suffering wasn’t over, because he didn’t die instantly. Weisenhorn and Stump ran to him, and while he was bleeding, they handcuffed him – and he died about two minutes later,” after asking the police to tell his parents he loved them.
The lawsuit notes that during this period Gifford’s life was “dominated by pain and suffering, including his awareness of impending death. … A bullet passed through his right thoracic back, puncturing the skin, the subcutaneous tissue, musculature, posterolateral right rib, right lung and right anterior third intercostal musculature before exiting Another bullet punctured the skin, subcutaneous tissue and embedded itself in the muscle of the right lower back. Another bullet entered the left lower back and punctured the skin, subcutaneous tissue and left psoas muscle, mesentery and stomach before exiting.”
The better part of a year passed before Stump was charged with two counts of attempted second-degree murder and one count of assault with a deadly weapon for shooting, and while Weisenhorn was Briefly suspended with pay, she remained employed by the Kiowa. County Sheriff’s Office before being belatedly fired in March 2021.
The incident was captured on video from a body-worn camera, but footage has yet to be released, due to the ongoing criminal case against Stump. In the meantime, negotiations over compensation for Gifford’s death came to nothing, sparking the lawsuit – and although Kiowa County later offered to settle the case, the amount was far less what Holland and Holland Edwards considered appropriate.
This led to the creation of the panel, with each party choosing two members who then reviewed the evidence regarding issues of liability and damages. The $9.5 million settlement was accompanied by these non-monetary conditions:
1. The current Kiowa County Sheriff shall implement new use of force policies consistent with Garner, consistent with reasonable policies routinely implemented by law enforcement in the State of Colorado, regarding constitutional limits on the use of lethal force, including the use of such force on fleeing suspects on foot or in moving vehicles.
2. New officer and annual training will be required for all members of the Department on constitutional limits on the use of deadly force and in particular regarding fugitive suspects, in accordance with POST certification and licensing requirements for officers of law enforcement and using this incident to learn from as far back as possible. as part of these continuing education efforts to prevent the recurrence of such tragedies.
3. The County, in consultation with the family, will erect a prominent, suitably located memorial commemorating the life of Zach, including his name, date of birth, case event, and a significant passage or scripture to be selected by family and approved by the County Board of County Commissioners.
In a statement, Larry and Carla Gifford thank their immediate and extended family, Zach’s friends, residents of Kiowa County and the surrounding community, and all loved ones for what they call “incredible support and prayers during the past two years.” Above all, they “thank God for carrying us through this very difficult journey”.
The couple also express their gratitude to the Kiowa Commissioners and JD Murdock, a county attorney, “for reaching this final resolution with them and for stepping up to create a process to end this trial which was so peaceful, civil and respectful family feelings and a crushing loss as possible.”
Holland gained immense respect for Eads. “The city is special and interesting,” he says. “It’s a place where people love each other, care for each other, care about each other and have the will to challenge authority and come out in a powerful way to say, ‘This doesn’t shouldn’t happen in our community, and we’re ‘I’m not going to put up with it.'”
Westword contacted the Kiowa County Board of Commissioners for comment on the settlement. Click to read Estate of Zachary Gifford c. Tracy Weisenhorn, et al.