A Larimer County sheriff’s deputy who used a Taser on a 28-year-old man as he ran onto Interstate 25, dropping him in the path of an oncoming SUV, will not face charges in the man’s death, the 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office said in a letter Friday.
Deputy Lorenzo Lujan said he feared that Brent Thompson might cause a collision when the deputy decided to hit the fleeing man with a Taser on I-25. Lujan said he didn’t see any cars but it was only after he pulled the trigger on the device that he saw a vehicle “closer than expected,” the district attorney’s office said.
“While in retrospect it is clear he used poor, and ultimately tragic, judgment in deploying his Taser after Mr. Thompson was already in the traffic lanes of I-25, the split-second decisions here were not formed with evil intent,” District Attorney Gordon McLaughlin said in a statement. Instead the decision came after a quick assessment of possible danger to Thompson and drivers on the interstate, he said.
Thompson was stopped by Lujan for expired plates about 9:15 p.m. Feb. 18 at an off-ramp in Fort Collins and provided a fake name, before running toward the interstate, the sheriff’s office said. After Lujan hit him with a Taser, Thompson collapsed in the road, the district attorney’s office said.
Thompson was struck by a Ford Explorer traveling 65-70 mph, according to details collected through a multi-agency investigation and presented to the district attorney. Lujan pulled Thompson to the shoulder to provide aid before paramedics took over, but the 28-year-old died in the hospital.
Thompson’s family are calling for accountability, calling the lack of criminal charges a “travesty of justice,” in a letter from their attorneys. They are demanding Lujan be fired and that body camera footage be released and also asking for the Colorado Attorney General to review the district attorney’s decision.
“As unconscionable as it is locking a person in a police car on railroad tracks, it is even more unconscionable to tase someone on the interstate at night,” a letter from law firm Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC said, referring to a case last year when a Platteville police office locked a woman in a vehicle that was later hit by a train. “Tasing a person on the interstate is a death sentence.”
In his ruling, McLaughlin said there was no evidence that Lujan intended his Taser to cause Thompson’s death and that the Taser is not a weapon intended to cause death. He also wrote that evidence showed “at least some level of force” was needed to effectively arrest Thompson.
“While it is reasonable for the community to ask whether any pursuit of Mr. Thompson was necessary under the circumstances presented here, that is not the legal question that must be answered by the District Attorney,” McLaughlin said.
The district attorney reviewed Lujan’s body camera footage in his review of the incident, but the footage has not yet been publicly released.
“What we want, we can’t have,” David Thompson, Brent’s father said Friday. “Our son is gone.”
He called the deputy’s actions “the most heinous crime he’s ever seen” that should have had him fired immediately. David recalled watching the deputy’s recorded body camera footage, seeing his son being hit by a Taser before falling onto his back in the road. Seven seconds later, an SUV rolls over his body “like a rag doll,” he said. David remembered hearing his son’s last breath upon impact.
Lujan then put handcuffs on Thompson before dragging him off the road, David Thompson said, recounting the footage that has not been released to the family despite their requests.
Karen Thompson called Brent, the youngest of her three children, a “momma’s boy,” who taught himself how to fix almost anything, from watches to cars. He often surprised her with landscape drawings or portraits that usually came with notes reminding her how much he loved her, she said Friday.
Brent was a “hands-on uncle” who loved to play Legos and throw water balloons with his two nephews and gave his sister the courage to step outside her comfort zone, his siblings said.
The 28-year-old connected with strangers with ease and was well known in the tight-knit community of Larimer County, where Brent grew up, his family said.
“It’s amazing how a community that we once were all part of just turns around, just slaps us like we’re not worth anything,” David Thompson said. “I hope somebody looks into this and takes it really seriously and changes that outcome because my son has rights.”
In an interview with investigators, Lujan said he believed Thompson was using drugs or alcohol and dispatch informed him that Thompson had three or more convictions that would suspend a driver’s license, according to the district attorney’s letter. After he told Thompson he was under arrest for providing a fake name, Thompson ran down a steep embankment toward I-25.
Lujan said he looked one direction and didn’t see any cars or headlights, but couldn’t see traffic from the other direction because of the overpass structure and embankment, the letter said. After warning Thompson, Lujan deployed his Taser, he told investigators, before seeing a car traveling northbound where Thompson fell.
Investigators believe Thompson was hit by the Taser about 5.6 seconds before he was struck by the car, which was likely 533 to 615 feet away at the time, according to the letter.
In explaining his decision to chase and subdue Thompson with a Taser, Lujan told investigators he felt Thompson posed a risk to himself and people traveling on I-25 and that if he were struck by a car, he could seriously injure or kill the passengers. He said his verbal commands were unsuccessful, he was too far away to physically detain him and thought using his gun would be unjustified.
Lujan and another deputy on the scene tried to alert the car to stop by waving their flashlights, but the driver hit Thompson, pulling his body further into the road.
The driver of the Ford Explorer, who was with his wife and three kids inside the car, said the area was dark and he swerved to avoid hitting the deputies after he saw the green flicker of their flashlights, not realizing what was in the road. He immediately pulled over.
Investigators later found drug paraphernalia, narcotics and a handgun inside Thompson’s car, according to the district attorney’s letter.
In its original news release, Larimer County Sheriff’s Office said a deputy deployed a Taser and Thompson was hit by a passing car. The agency did not specify whether Thompson was hit by the Taser.
The Larimer County coroner ruled Thompson’s death an accident caused by multiple blunt force injuries.