The highly anticipated trial more than two years coming, The People of the State of Colorado v. Quinten Stump began with opening statements Monday August 15, 2022 at 8:30 a.m. in the Kiowa County District Court with the honorable Judge Davidson presiding. Last week more than 200 potential jurors answered their summons for jury duty and appeared on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Kiowa County Community Building. The rest of the week potential jurors were weeded out through use of the court approved questionnaire each was to fill out, as well as question-and-answer sessions with the judge, defense council and District Attorney Joshua Vogel.
Former Kiowa County Sheriff Deputy Quinten Stump was arrested on January 12, 2021 and charged with two counts of Attempted Second Degree Murder, and one count of Assault with a Deadly Weapon in the April 9, 2020 officer involved shooting death of Eads resident, 39-year-old Zachary Gifford. At the more than five-hour preliminary hearing held on April 30, 2021 Kiowa County District Judge Davidson found probable cause in this case and set it for arraignment.
Since that April 30, 2021 preliminary hearing, Stump, who has pled not guilty to all charges has awaited trial. The jury trial in this case has been delayed twice dragging it out more than 2-years since the death of Mr. Gifford occurred.
The prosecution began the morning with their opening statements in which District Attorney Joshua Vogel explained the 20-seconds between the first and last shot that the defendant Quinten Stump fired and how those 20-seconds was not an insignificant amount of time.
The DA argued that there was no threat to the lives of the community or even the officers at the scene when Gifford attempted to flee the scene as he was running away in the direction of a large open grassy field. The prosecution showed a clip from Stump’s first and second formal interviews following the incident where he stated in his own words that Gifford was in fact, just “running away.” Vogel concluded to the jury that Gifford was merely resisting arrest.
Vogel showed various photos from the scene of the incident as well as body cam footage from Stump’s camera at the time of the incident. After a brief overview of the progression of the incident from the time the traffic stop was initiated by former Undersheriff Tracy Weisenhorn to the events that ended with Zach Gifford losing his life, DA Vogel attempted to paint a picture for the jury as to how this case has ended up where it is today and informed the jury that at the end of the case, he will be asking the jury to find the defendant guilty on all charges.
When the People finished their opening statements, the defense then looked to the jurors. Defense attorney Beau Worthington paraphrased, “Being a cop is hard.” He then went on to indicate that everyone else has had the luxury of time in order to pick apart the defendant’s decision to fire his weapon for the last two years, but the defendant did not have that same luxury of time during this incident. He had to decide on the spot what actions to take.
Worthington also stated that, “This is not a murder case.” The defense added that based on the evidence and not feelings, a verdict of not guilty should be returned at the end of the case because the defendant’s actions were justified and reasonable for the circumstances.
After opening statements, the prosecution called their first witness. Sergeant Juan Rodriguez with the Prowers County Sheriff’s Department responded to the scene of the incident after former Kiowa County Sheriff Casey Sheridan called Prowers County for an agency assist. The Prowers County Sheriff’s Department acted as the lead investigative agency on this case. Rodriguez was tasked with securing evidence found at the scene as well as speaking with Stump about what had occurred.
When called to the witness stand Rodriguez brought with him an evidence box that contained the evidence that was collected at the scene as well as taken from Gifford’s body at the time of the autopsy in El Paso County. District Attorney Joshua Vogel asked the Sargent to confirm the location of all items when he found them as well as confirm photos of the crime scene and photos of Gifford’s body at the time of the autopsy and the wounds that were visible in the photographs.
According to Sargent Rodriguez as well as the evidence that was attained from the scene each of the two firearms discharged two bullets, three of those bullets did indeed strike Gifford in the back as he was running away from the officers. Photos from the crime scene that Rodriguez was asked to describe showed images of Gifford lying on his back with his arms behind him. The second photo showed Gifford on his side to illustrate his hands were cuffed behind his back with pink handcuffs which have been identified as Undersheriff Weisenhorn’s.
Cross examination of Sargent Rodriguez was done by Defense attorney Michael Stuzynski who asked Rodriguez first about his training experience with the Prowers County Sheriff’s Office and what his training qualifications were. Rodriguez who is certified to train other officers to use pepper spray confirmed to Stuzynski that using pepper spray in windy conditions is not optimal as the wind may carry the spray into the officer’s eyes which may then allow for the officer to lose control of the situation due to being incapacitated.
Stuzynski also asked the Sargent what level of lethal force officers are trained to use initially. Sargent Rodriguez indicated that officers should use the lesser force first, but Stuzynski pressed further to question when one use of force does not work, what is the next step?
The defense pointed out that it was windy as was picked up on the body cam audio footage that was played back. The defense also reasoned that the pepper spray on Deputy Stump’s utility belt was not an optimal option for controlling the situation. Stuzynski then asked if the taser, which was the only other lesser lethal force Stump had available, failed to control Gifford was his firearm then the next option. Rodriguez stated that it would depend on each situation if that would have been the correct use of force to follow.
The People also called to the stand Prowers County Undersheriff Samuel Fife who described the scene when he arrived. Fife assisted in securing the evidence including the body cameras from both Stump and Weisenhorn and both service weapons used in the incident.
On cross examination, the defense only wanted Fife to acknowledge that the weather was windy as the it was strong enough to blow the evidence bags.
Later in the day on Monday, Brian Morrell who was the only civilian witness to the incident and the driver of the pickup, was sworn in and took the stand. Morrell described what he and Gifford had been doing that day indicating he had been fixing tires on the pickup and Gifford had been in his house in Brandon working on a bathroom remodel.
The prosecution asked Morrell about his relationship with Gifford. Morrell said Gifford had been at the house for the past day and half working on the remodel and described Gifford, “He was a friend mostly, he was a good guy.”
The People then took Morrell through the traffic stop and the pat down performed by Weisenhorn and Stump of both Morrell and Gifford after Weisenhorn had asked them to get out of the pickup.
Morrell said Weisenhorn found a small pocketknife on him and as they were talking about that, “Zach,” who was being patted down by Stump, “started to take off.” Morrell then described the altercation between the two officers and Gifford emphasizing he was tased and eventually got up away from the officers and headed southeast away from the scene.
Morrell then said he heard two gun shots but couldn’t see what had happened very well. Stump then came walking back some time later and told Morrell to sit down on the ground. Morrell did. Stump went to his police car.
The defense walked Morrell through the incident again asking for some clarification.
Corporal Josh Swanson then took the stand and described the scene when he arrived. He had been about three miles south of the junction of Highways 287 and 96 when the call came in. He was the first to arrive. He observed Morrell against the pickup, Stump was in the patrol car and Weisenhorn was out to the east in the bar ditch area performing CPR on Gifford. Swanson’s body cam indicated he sprinted to where Gifford and Weisenhorn were to see if he could help.
Swanson said he and Weisenhorn rotated turns giving CPR to Gifford, but it was not successful.
After 10 to 15 minutes of CPR, Swanson said, “He was unresponsive.”
The defense asked questions of Swanson as to his responsibilities within the chain of command structure. These were questions also asked to Rodriguez and Fife.
Monday’s testimony ended with Derek Graham of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Graham had conducted two in-person interviews with the defendant as well as an additional walk-through at the scene interview.
Graham’s testimony will continue on Tuesday.
The trial is expected to last until the end of this week.