Justice for Chloe: an update on Commerce City case People vs Robert Price

August 23, 2013

The following is a summary taken from the Piccone Law Firm, dated August 23, 2013

Today the Honorable Judge Thomas Ensor held a hearing on pending matters in the case of People v. Robert Price, 2012CR3712, 18th Judicial District (Adams County, Colorado). If you don’t know about this case, media reports can be Googled.

This case is for felony animal abuse brought against a Commerce City police officer for the “needless killing” of a dog, Chloe. A neighbor videotaped 20+ minutes of Animal Control and police at the scene of a “dog at large” complaint, with Chloe mostly hiding in the garage, asking them to leave her alone the only way she knew how; barking.

Police officer Price decided to taze her (twice) and when that made a terrified Chloe try to run away, he shot her five times even though the female animal control officer had successfully looped a catchpole around Chloe’s neck and Chloe was just trying to run away.

Chloe died that day, for no reason other than getting out of the garage where she was staying with relatives. The Commerce City police then released information to the public based on the officers’ accounts, stating that Chloe was a vicious pit bull who had attacked police and needed to be shot for public safety. The video went viral a few days later.

Here are the highlights from today’s hearing:

1. Upon inquiry of defense counsel, the judge indicated he would not prevent the jury from viewing the videotape of the shooting, nor will he allow “experts” to testify as to what they believe the tape shows. The jury will see the cell phone video taken by a neighbor’s child and decide whether the conduct was criminal based on the statute. The video went viral soon after Thanksgiving 2012 and parts of the video can be viewed on numerous websites and Youtube.

2. This case will not be about whether Chloe was a “pit bull” (or for that matter a sheep dog); it will be whether Mr. Price’s actions in shooting her were necessary given the information he had at the time; Generalizations about “pit bull” physical characteristics and/or notions that “pit bulls” are a dangerous breed per se will likely not be allowed.

3. The judge and prosecution will be looking into allegations that Commerce City police officers may have interviewed a key witness after they had handed the investigation over to other sources. The question is whether this was witness tampering or intimidation.

4. Robert Price’s attorney Don Sissons will have to respond to a Notice of Conflict filed by the Prosecution regarding his representation of Price and the other two officers who were present during the shooting. Sissons is an attorney on many police involved issues and is believed to be retained through the Fraternal Order of Police.

These issues are explored in more detail below:

The Prosecutors have subpoenaed the following documents from Commerce City: Douglas County Sheriff’s Department internal investigation into the shooting, Commerce City Command Review Board’s internal investigation, and the personnel files of Commerce City Officer Robert Price. Commerce City had filed a motion to quash the subpoenas and City Attorney Gregory Gram was present to argue against having to produce the records to either the defendant or the prosecution.

Judge Ensor ordered that the files be given to him for an in camera review, meaning he will determine whether any information from the files will be provided to the defense and prosecution. Commerce City’s attorney provided the judge with 3 sealed envelopes of documents.

If the judge does allow documents to be provided, it is under an order of confidentiality that the documents not be given to any third party, and to be destroyed upon conclusion of the case. If any documents are admitted into evidence at the criminal trial, those would presumably become part of the public record in this case.

In the course of arguing the relevance of these files, the Prosecution noted that the City had previously released one report from the Command Review Board, an analysis of Sergeant Shaffer. The report apparently contains Sergeant Shaffer’s frame by frame analysis of the videotaped shooting with his conclusions as to what he believes the video shows and whether he believes Officer Price’s actions were reasonable or not (the author has not reviewed the report, although the Prosecutor stated it had been released to the public).

Judge Ensor stated that he does not anticipate allowing evidence of what other people believe the video shows; the jury will be allowed to view the video and make its own factual determinations.

Of interest, the Prosecution also brought up that they have information that two Commerce City police officers interviewed key witness Kenny Collins after the police department had handed the criminal investigation over to the Adams County Prosecutor and the internal affairs investigation over to the Douglas County Sheriff.

The prosecutor indicated that information in the subpoenaed files may shed light on if this in fact occurred, and if so, why. Witness Collins had apparently told the prosecutors that he felt the officers were pushing him into making certain statements.

The judge noted that this conduct could rise to the level of witness tampering or intimidation, and he would be reviewing the files for relevant evidence.

The next issue to be addressed was a Notice of Conflict filed by the Prosecution regarding Robert Price’s defense attorney Don Sisson’s representation because Mr. Sisson also represents two key prosecution witnesses, Officer Christopher Castillo and Animal Control Officer Arisa Bores who were the two Commerce City officers with Mr. Price for the 20+ minute videotaped dog encounter and who authored police reports supporting Mr. Price’s account of the incident (which in this author’s opinion) differs from the evidence as shown on the videotape.

Mr. Sisson brushed off any suggestion that there may be a conflict of interest with him representing all three individuals. The judge told him to look at it seriously and submit a response to the Notice of Conflict within 10 days.

The discovery deadline in this case is Friday August 30. By that time the judge will have presumably decided if he will release any of the subpoenaed documents to the prosecution and defense. That would also presumably be the deadline for the prosecution and defense to exchange all their evidence and expert witness reports.

The next scheduled court date is a pretrial hearing on September 25, 2013. The jury trial is scheduled to begin September 30, 2013, but this is subject to change.

 

 

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