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Crime and Courts

Colorado trooper who guards Capitol and governor charged with felony menacing after pointing gun at driver

Jay Hemphill allegedly pointed a gun at a driver near the Colorado Capitol

The Colorado State Capitol is seen on Thursday, August 19, 2021, in Denver. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

A Colorado State Patrol trooper assigned to a unit that protects the legislature and serves as the security detail for Gov. Jared Polis has been charged with felony menacing after he allegedly pointed his gun at a driver near the state Capitol while on duty.

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Jay Hemphill, 49, has been placed on administrative leave. 

Hemphill has worked for the State Patrol since July 1995 and has worked at the state Capitol in the Executive Security Unit since January 1998. He is a constant presence in the building that houses the legislature and the governor’s office. 

The Denver District Attorney’s Office says that on Aug. 25, Hemphill pointed his firearm at a woman who was in a vehicle while he was crossing at East 14th Avenue and Sherman Street. That intersection is just feet from the south entrance of the Capitol.

According to an arrest affidavit for Hemphill, the woman said she was driving her truck near the Capitol and attempting to make a right turn onto East 14th from Sherman when Hemphill crossed in front of her vehicle, pulled out his gun, pointed it at her and started to yell at her.

The encounter was captured on video.

“I was afraid I was going to get shot,” the woman told Denver police. 

The affidavit says Hemphill reported the encounter to a Colorado State Patrol sergeant.

Jay Hemphill. (Handout)

“The Colorado State Patrol and its members are here to ensure the safety of all persons and to live our core values of honor, duty, and respect,” the agency said in a news release. “We take these standards seriously and recognize that the success of our mission depends upon maintaining the trust and the safety of the public we serve. We respect and defer to the Denver District Attorney’s Office and our judicial system regarding this charge.”

Hemphill’s first court appearance was Wednesday. The Denver District Attorney’s Office announced the charge Friday.

In 2007, Hemphill shot and killed a 32-year-old man who declared himself “the emperor” while carrying a loaded .357 caliber handgun inside the Capitol. 

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Hemphill received Colorado State Patrol’s highest award for stopping the armed man, Aaron Snyder, shortly after he entered then-Gov. Bill Ritter’s office.

Dressed in a black tuxedo, Snyder said “I am the emperor and I am here to take over the state of Colorado.” Hemphill met Snyder in the reception area of the governor’s office, engaged him in  conversation and got Snyder to exit the reception area. 

Snyder then pulled open his tuxedo coat, revealing a large gun protruding from his right-pants pocket and said: “No police are going to stop me.” 

As he started to move toward Hemphill, Hemphill fired four shots at Snyder, who died at the scene.

Polis, when asked Friday about the felony charge leveled against Hemphill, declined to comment on the specifics of the case.

“Mr. Hemphill has dedicated his life to public service, protecting Coloradans, protecting our state Capitol,” the governor said.


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