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Saturday, July 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

‘Second-Chance Cop’ Sued for Murder

DENVER (CN) — Convicted of murder in June, a Colorado "second-chance cop," and his city, have been sued by a mother who saw the officer shoot her son to death in her kitchen.

Rocky Ford police Officer James Ashby shot and killed Jack Jacquez on Oct. 12, 2014 in the home of his mother, Viola Jacquez. An Otero County jury convicted Ashby guilty of second-degree murder on June 23. He is awaiting sentencing of up to 48 years.

Jacquez's family, including his fiancée and representatives of his three children, call Ashby a "second-chance cop" in their federal lawsuit, because they say the City of Rocky Ford hired him despite his previous police chief's warning that his city had declared Ashby "not eligible for rehire" after several internal affairs investigations of excessive force.

Rocky Ford, pop. 4,300, is in southeastern Colorado, near La Junta.

According to the lengthy lawsuit, Ashby followed Jacquez as he skateboarded home in the early morning of Oct. 12, 2014 after 27-year-old Jacquez left a friend's house where he had been playing video games.

"For no apparent or justifiable reason," and "without identifying himself as a police officer," Ashby followed Jacquez onto his back porch — the main entrance to the house — and shouted at him to show his hands, the family says.

Jacquez tried to enter the door as Ashby drew his gun and screamed at him to show his "fucking hands," the family says. Jacquez's mother opened the door as the men struggled on the porch. Ashby pepper-sprayed Jacquez and followed him into the kitchen, still without identifying himself as a police officer, then shot Jacquez in the back, severing his spinal cord, from 4 to 6 feet away.

"Mr. Jacquez did not pose an actual or imminent threat of serious physical harm to defendant Ashby or others when defendant Ashby fired his fatal shot," his mother says. "Mr. Jacquez was shot in the back from a distance of at least four feet, he was unarmed, and he was moving away from defendant Ashby."

Ashby had work for Rocky Ford police for only four months. His previous employer, Walsenburg, pop. 3,100, also is in southeastern Colorado, in Huerfano County, south of Pueblo. Ashby resigned from that job in 2013 during a pending investigation and after previous investigations of "several incidents of excessive force, unlawful entry, and unlawful arrest," the Jacquez family says. These incidents are described in the lawsuit.

The family says the Walsenburg police chief warned Rocky Ford Police Chief Frank Gallegos, a defendant, "that Officer Ashby had been the subject of several internal affairs investigations and that he was not eligible for rehire with the WPD."

After resigning from Walsenburg, Ashby was "roundly rejected" by several other cities to which he applied for police work, the family says. "Rocky Ford, however, with its documented history of hiring 'second chance officers,' actually recruited Officer Ashby to join the department."

"Even the most cursory background check" would have revealed Ashby's troubled and aggressive history, the family says, and his training at Rocky Ford, was virtually nil. "Essentially, upon being hired by Rocky Ford, Officer Ashby was simply given a badge and told to 'go police.'"

Police he did. "By the time Officer Ashby shot and killed Mr. Jacquez, he was already the recipient of several civilian complaints, including at least two excessive force complaints, despite having been employed by Rocky Ford for less than four months. An investigation that opened just two days before the fatal shooting recommended that criminal charges be brought against Officer Ashby for false arrest, kidnapping, criminal harassment, and excessive force," according to the complaint.

During Ashby's week-long trial in June, his counsel argued that Ashby thought Jacquez was a burglar, and that he was worried about a baseball bat in the Jacquezes' living room. Ashby testified that he told Jacquez to drop the bat before he fired the fatal shot, but Jacquez's mother remained adamant that though a bat was in the room, it was never in her son's possession during the incident.

The family seeks punitive damages for violations of the Constitution and other civil rights, deadly force, deliberate indifference, emotional distress and loss of consortium.

They are represented by Qusair Mohamedbhai of Denver, who did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The town of Rocky Ford did not return a phone call seeking comment.

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