Former Montezuma County Sheriff's Sgt. Edward Francis Oxley was charged with two counts of illegally discharging a firearm, Class 5 felonies. He pleaded not guilty, and the case was set for trial in April. (Durango Herald)

DURANGO — A former sergeant in Colorado faces felony gun charges after shooting at a suspect in a fatal vehicle pursuit in McElmo Canyon in 2018, prosecutors said.

The district attorney’s office charged former Montezuma County Sgt. Edward Francis Oxley in September with two counts of illegally discharging a firearm, The Durango Herald reported Wednesday.

Oxley pleaded not guilty. The case is scheduled for trial next month.

Court records said Oxley was shot at while on duty in February 2018 by Fordell Hill, a passenger in a vehicle that fled the scene of a traffic stop near Cortez, prompting a high-speed pursuit. Oxley fatally shot Hill during the exchange after the vehicle had crashed on Navajo Nation land, authorities said. There were three people in the car.

After an investigation by the FBI, Utah U.S. Attorney John W. Huber ruled in August 2018 that the fatal use of force was justified and declined criminal prosecution. However, Huber also raised concerns about Oxley’s actions, calling the circumstances leading up to the shooting unusual and troubling.

Oxley was fired a month later after an internal investigations review concluded he violated department policies, including shooting at or from a moving vehicle, using unapproved ammunition while on duty and carrying unapproved ammunition.

Assistant District Attorney Will Furse said the charges alleging illegal discharge of a firearm are for each of the other two occupants in the suspect’s vehicle. The charge claims Oxley violated state statutes by “unlawfully, feloniously, knowingly or recklessly discharging a firearm into a motor vehicle occupied by the driver and passenger.”

Two other charges against Oxley, including disorderly conduct and second-degree official misconduct, were dismissed because the statute of limitations for prosecution had run out.

Oxley and his lawyer Keenan Lovett filed a motion earlier this month arguing the charges of illegal discharge of a firearm do not qualify under the statute, which states it is not an offense if done by an officer operating within the scope of his duties.

Furse argued the motion should be denied because Oxley violated department policy, so “he was not acting within the scope of such officer’s authority and/or was not in the performance of such officer’s duties.”

District Court Judge Todd Plewe is expected to rule on the defense’s motion March 22.

The Associated Press