The family of a Colorado man who died after being tased by police is enraged after Colorado authorities announced that the body cam footage of the fatal incident will not be released by the police.
What's the back story?
Matt Poer, a former green beret, died on April 12th of this year after sheriff's deputies in Elbert County, Colorado tased him.
According to a prior report from KCNC-TV in Denver, Poer served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and exhibited signs and symptoms of PTSD upon his return from combat. He had a service dog who helped him cope with his PTSD, but when the dog died, he came to Colorado to find a new one from an Elbert County breeder. Poer befriended the breeder, Elaine Holt, and moved in to a trailer she kept on her property.
Everything was going well until the fateful morning of April 12th, when Holt returned home to find Poer displaying signs of paranoia. According to Holt, Poer claimed that the property was under video surveillance, and also claimed that there were strangers hiding in the property on a parked RV.
Poer then asked Holt to call the Elbert County Sheriff about the alleged security cameras, and she did so. When Holt was unable to immediately reach anyone, Poer became more agitated and called 911. While he was on the phone with the 911 dispatcher, Poer then handed the phone to Holt, grabbed his pistol, and walked outside, according to KCNC.
Holt then told the 911 dispatcher that Poer was having a "PTSD episode" and that Poer was "armed, he thinks there is something going on, on the property." She told KCNC that she saw Poer pacing around outside with his gun but she did not feel threatened. Eventually, Poer left Holt's property and walked to some nearby adjacent fields.
A neighbor named MacKenzie Gannon claimed that after Poer left Holt's property, she saw him walking down the road "kind of waving a gun around," and that she heard gun shots as Poer apparently discharged his weapon randomly "into the unpopulated countryside." They then saw Poer lay down in the grass.
While Poer was still laying in the grass, the sheriff's deputies arrived, and Gannon says she heard the deputies shouting orders at Poer: "Get down, get down, put your hands up, show us your hands, shut the F—up." Gannon told KCNC that she believes that Poer was laying in the grass the whole time.
When Poer did not respond satisfactorily to their commands, one of the deputies deployed his taser into Poer's back. According to Gannon, after the incident was over, the deputies came to her house and "peppered" her with questions about the gun, such as, "did you see him drop it anywhere?" Gannon took from this line of questioning that they did not find the gun on Poer's body.
According to the autopsy report, the coroner stated that in the body camera footage that has not been released, "Taser deployment can be heard, followed immediately by a groaning sound by the subject and immediate unresponsiveness, from which he never regains consciousness." The coroner concluded that "It is my opinion that Christopher (Matt) Poer, a 46-year-old White male, died as a result of sudden death associated with amphetamine intoxication, dilated cardiomyopathy, and Taser deployment."
According to Holt, she told the 911 dispatcher that Poer was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but that he had taken two of her Adderall earlier that day. Adderall is classified as a methamphetamine. KCNC's review of the 911 call logs confirmed that this information was relayed to the officers on the scene.
What about the body camera footage?
KCNC and other local media immediately sought to obtain body camera footage in order to determine what Elbert County Sheriff's deputies may have seen to cause them to deploy the taser. However, Elbert County Sheriff Shayne Heap refused, claiming that releasing the video would be "contrary to the public interest."
This touched off a legal battle between the sheriff's office and Poer's family, who want the body camera footage released.
The Arapahoe County District Attorney's office ruled Wednesday that the officers were justified in their use of the taser on Poer, and also agreed with Sheriff Heap that the release of the video would be contrary to the public interest.
However, Poer's mother promises that the fight isn't over, telling KCNC, "the release of the body cam would answer some questions... It’s unfortunate. We are going to have to take a longer route before that happens."
Heap says that he is fighting the release of the video because it will "include details of security procedures, or how officers will prepare, engage or react in any given situation." He also says he is worried about a potential lawsuit, saying in his statement, "Therefore release would be contrary to the public interest as it may substantially harm the ongoing investigation to release information related to the parties involved, potential witnesses as this may subject those parties to harassment and intimidation if their information, names, or contents of their statements are released prior to a potential trial."
He also claims that the body camera footage contains Poer's medical and personal information, and he wants to respect the Poer family's privacy.