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Crime and Courts

Fort Collins police defend investigation in fatal shooting case, despite errors noted by prosecutors

Evidence problems stopped Finnegan Daly's family from securing a tougher sentence in the Colorado State University student's death

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The Fort Collins police department is defending its investigation of the 2018 shooting death of a 21-year-old Colorado State University student, even though a judge and prosecutors complained of errors.

Colemann Carver pleaded guilty to felony tampering with evidence related to the January 2018 death of his roommate, Finnegan Daly, as part of a deal that will allow him to avoid prison and clear his record after two years. 

Finnegan Daly, seen here atop Mount Evans, died Jan. 14, 2018, from a gunshot wound at an off-campus house near the Colorado State University campus. The 21-year-old was entering the spring semester of his senior year. (Provided by Regina Daly)

Eighth Judicial District Judge Susan Blanco expressed concern about the investigation at the sentencing hearing in December and made clear the discrepancies in the account of the shooting means no one “is ever really going to know what happened.” And the Larimer County District Attorney’s Office said “errors that were made in the first investigation” are to blame for a sentence lighter than the one requested by Daly’s family. 

But Fort Collins Police Chief Jeff Swoboda, in an interview with 9News that aired Thursday, defended his officers, saying “there weren’t errors so much as there were reasons why we did or didn’t do things.”

“I was concerned that some of the things that were being said were putting the police department and our investigation in a bad light,” he said in the interview, referring to comments from the prosecutors and the judge.

As The Colorado Sun first reported in September, police closed the case and ruled it an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound. But investigators didn’t consider a Snapchat image taken moments before the shooting that showed the firearm in Carver’s hand. The image eventually led police to reopen the investigation.

In a subsequent interview with police, Carver gave a statement to investigators that contradicted much of the original report.

Swoboda said his agency conducted a preliminary review of the case and found officers handled the initial investigation appropriately. He dismissed concerns that his officers did not conduct gunshot residue or blood alcohol tests, saying the evidence would have been “fruitless” because Carver admitted to officers he was drinking. And he said the fact an illegal, high-capacity ammunition magazine was involved is not an issue.

The deputy district attorney acknowledged in court that the missing evidence meant “we would have problems with proof at trial.”

Swoboda did tell 9News that the department is reviewing its policy on when to conduct blood-alcohol tests in major cases. The department declined earlier requests from The Sun for an interview about the case.

MORE: She blames America’s gun culture for her son’s death. But the NRA may profit from a plea deal with the gun owner.

In an interview Friday with The Sun, Regina Daly, the mother of the victim, said the chief is lying if he thinks the investigation was proper.

“The judge thinks there were problems, the (deputy district attorney) thinks there were problems, we think there were problems — it’s only the police that don’t think there were problems,” she said.