DA: Trooper justified in Glenwood Canyon shooting
June 21, 2014
District Attorney Sherry Caloia said this morning it is clear that a Colorado state trooper acted properly May 8 when he shot and killed a man in the Glenwood Canyon after the man wounded another trooper.
“After careful review of the evidence and the accounts of the three eyewitnesses to the incident, the district attorney has determined that no charges are warranted or will be filed against Trooper [Shane] Gosnell for the death of Thomas Ornelas,” Caloia said in an email statement.
At the time of the incident, Ornelas was drunk and in possession of a large amount of a substance thought to be cocaine, the Garfield County Sheriff's Office said Thursday afternoon.
The sheriff's department released a synopsis of the incident, which left State Trooper Eugene Hofacker hospitalized and Ornelas, a convicted felon with a long record, dead. The synopsis said Gosnell, who was with Hofacker, fired 14 shots after Ornelas had shot and wounded Hofacker.
Gosnell acted after he "saw his fellow trooper's life was in immediate danger," the synopsis said. Garfield County Sheriff's officials did not return calls seeking further comment. A Colorado State Patrol spokesman declined comment.
Caloia’s statement said: “It is clear from the eyewitnesses' accounts and the physical evidence that Thomas Ornelas drew a gun and shot at Trooper Hofacker during a motorist assist shortly after 9 a.m. on May 8, 2014. Trooper Hofacker was shot four times by Thomas Ornelas. To prevent further injury to and protect Trooper Hofacker and to protect himself he drew his pistol and shot Thomas Ornelas several times. Despite being shot, Thomas Ornelas continued to advance against Trooper Hofacker with his gun pointed at Trooper Hofacker. Trooper Gosnell shot at Thomas Ornelas until he believed that the threat of injury was resolved.
“The actions of Trooper Gosnell constituted self-defense and defense of others and the shooting of Thomas Ornelas was reasonable and justified.”
Hofacker and Gosnell were traveling west on I-70 from the Avon area to attend training in Glenwood Springs when they stopped to assist a red sedan stopped at the eastern end of the canyon. Hofacker contacted the driver, Ornelas, and, the synopsis said, saw signs of intoxication. The man soon became uncooperative and argumentative, and fired several shots at Hofacker, striking him several times.
The synopsis released by Garfield County did not say how many times Hofacker was shot or where he was wounded.
Gosnell, who was near the rear of the State Patrol vehicle, moved toward the red car and began shooting.
The synopsis, which did not say when or if Ornelas got out of his car, said the man fell to his knees but continued to hold onto his weapon, prompting Gosnell to fire a total of 14 rounds before Ornelas dropped completely to the ground.
Hofacker was taken to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs where he later underwent surgery. The patrol would not comment on his condition, but he left the hospital in mid-May and appeared at Eagle Fire Rescue's torch run May 18.
The shoot-out closed westbound I-70 through the Glenwood Canyon for about eight hours, and the entire freeway for about five hours.
The Garfield County investigation determined that Ornelas was en route to his home in Montrose from the Denver area and had told a friend earlier in the day that he was having car trouble and that he may need to be picked up.
A search of Ornelas' vehicle turned up approximately 4.7 ounces of a substance thought to be cocaine, the synopsis said.
An autopsy showed that Ornelas sustained several gunshots and had a blood alcohol content of 0.186 as well of trace amounts of cocaine in his system.
Ornelas had a criminal history dating back more than 20 years, including a second-degree murder conviction as a teenager. At the age of 17 in 1991, he was charged and convicted as an adult of second-degree murder and subsequently did time in the Colorado Department of Corrections.
In 2007, Ornelas was picked up by the Montrose Police Department for third-degree assault and drug possession charges. Over the next couple of years, he was arrested for violation of a protection order on five separate occasions.
Most recently, he was charged in a drive-by shooting in March 2013 at a trailer park near Fruita. His warrant listed attempted first-degree assault "with extreme indifference," criminal mischief, illegal discharge of a firearm, and possession of a weapon by a previous offender. The court later added second degree attempted murder to the official charges.
He also was awaiting a September trial and was out of jail on $75,000 bond when he was killed.
In the weeks following the May shooting, investigators interviewed Hofacker, Gosnell and witnesses. In addition, investigators reviewed evidence, scene photos and submitted several pieces of evidence to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for analysis.
The Garfield County Sheriff's Office has turned over all reports, photographs and other evidence to the 9th Judicial District Attorney's Office for review.