Parachute man killed after chase had Oklahoma, Colorado criminal record
Officials have identified Brian P. Fritze, 45, of Parachute, as the man who was shot and killed Tuesday afternoon by law officers after leading Garfield County sheriff’s deputies on a 28-mile, high-speed chase along Interstate 70.
A full autopsy report is still pending, but according to Garfield County Coroner Robert Glassmire, multiple gunshot wounds were the cause of death, and the manner of death was ruled “homicide” — a term defined as the act of one human killing another that does not in itself carry a connotation of wrongdoing.
A final autopsy report and a Colorado Bureau of Investigation inquiry are pending. The two deputies involved are on administrative leave pending the outcome of the CBI Investigation, a non-disciplinary action that is standard protocol for officer-involved shootings.
A national expert on police use of force told the Post Independent on Wednesday that the incident just west of Glenwood Springs was a “very clear situation” calling for deadly force because motorists were in immediate danger.
Garfield County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Walt Stowe said that Fritze was implicated in a domestic violence incident earlier Tuesday.
He had an extensive criminal history.
A CBI records check shows that Fritze was previously arrested for misdemeanor harassment, false imprisonment, child abuse and violation of a restraining order involving domestic violence in December 2014. He also had two drunken driving charges in Colorado.
He was imprisoned in 2004 and 2005 in Oklahoma for convictions for assault, grand larceny and possession of a controlled substance.
When deputies attempted to contact Fritze around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, he fled in a red truck onto I-70 near Parachute.
After the Colorado State Patrol used spikes to flatten the front tires of the truck, Fritze exited the interstate at Canyon Creek where police said he got out of the truck and held a gun to his head. Then, Stowe and witnesses passing by said, he ran down an embankment toward traffic on the interstate.
That was a “nightmare scenario” for officers, leaving them with “very little they can do in terms of alternatives,” said Maria Haberfeld, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and an author of several books on terrorism and policing, including “Critical Issues in Police Training.”
“In general terms, police officers can use deadly force when under the impression that their life or somebody else’s life is in danger,” she said in an email. “A person running on a busy highway, with a gun, is more than an impression, this is a deadly threat to other commuters, at any given moment he could have caused a fatal traffic incident or/and shot somebody so, to me, it is 100 percent by-the-book behavior on the part of the police officers.”
She said in a telephone interview that officers had to “eliminate the danger” and likely couldn’t get close enough to use other means to subdue him, such as a Taser. She noted, too, that officers are trained to shoot for center mass to stop people who are posing a threat.
“I can’t see anyone challenging deadly force,” she said. “Here you had a person who was actively endangering other people. … Nothing is more justifiable.”
Garfield County Undersheriff Colt Cornelius agreed.
“If law enforcement enters a dynamic situation where the suspect is a clear danger, especially to the public, that threat has to be stopped,” he said in an email. “Ironically, the suspect really determines what happens next in an incident.
“As we’ve seen several times in the past few years, sometimes they surrender and other times they make the situation worse,” Cornelius continued. “If our deputies give verbal orders to someone who then produces a gun, you can understand the immediate escalation to one of our firearms. I don’t know of any agency that would expect their officer to use pepper spray or a Taser in a gunfight.”
Cornelius noted that there are often ripple effects to the use of deadly force.
“Without warning, officers, families, friends, agencies and the community are all thrust into some level of chaos, whether it be from taking another’s life to the closure of the interstate,” he said.
In many ways, the incident bore a fearful symmetry to last May’s shootout in the Glenwood Canyon that killed convicted felon Thomas Ornelas and put State Trooper Eugene Hofacker in the hospital. Some of the circumstances were different — Tuesday’s incident included a chase and no officers were wounded– but both incidents elicited community concern for the safety of everyone involved tempered by frustration at a long closure of a stretch of busy highway that is difficult to bypass.
Several other recent crimes have occurred along I-70 in Garfield County. Last year, two men were arrested after a woman reported being kidnapped from a bus stop in Denver, sexually assaulted and dropped off about 12 hours later at a rest stop in Glenwood Canyon. Less than a month later, a cross-country bank robbery targeted an Alpine Bank near I-70 in West Glenwood.
“What I’ve seen about crime is that it can happen anywhere at any time,” Cornelius said. “I don’t think I-70 is any more of a magnet than other large interstates. It’s a major thoroughfare running right through Garfield County and highly traveled by people of all walks of life, including criminals. If you look back to some of the more significant criminal incidents we’ve had on the interstate, many of them have started through basic traffic contacts.
“So, maybe the odds of contacting a very bad person are increased on I-70 due to the sheer volume of traffic,” he said.
When an incident escalates to a chase or a shootout, that volume also means more civilians potentially in harm’s way.
“We take vehicle pursuits very seriously and understand the risks to everyone directly and indirectly involved,” Cornelius said. “Our deputies and their supervisors have to consider a number of factors including the suspect, level of crime committed, traffic, road conditions, time of day and available help from other agencies. It’s a lot to process under high stress but we strongly advocate safety when deciding to initiate, continue or end a pursuit.”
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