By Brian Maass
ELBERT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Elbert County Sheriff Shayne Heap is refusing to release body worn camera video that captured the events leading up to the death of Matt Poer, who died in April shortly after he was shocked by an Elbert County deputies’ taser.
Responding to a CBS4 request for the video, Heap repeatedly said release of the video would be “contrary to the public interest.”
But Poer’s mother Sherry told CBS4 “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.”
The Arapahoe County District Attorney ruled Wednesday that the deputy who tasered Poer, 46, was legally justified because Poer was armed, was resisting arrest, had fired shots and was exhibiting erratic and criminal behavior.
“I find that Deputy (Chris) Dickey acted appropriately when he used the Taser device on Mr. Poer…”, wrote Chief Deputy District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham.
The incident was recorded by at least one deputies’ body worn camera. But in a three page response to CBS4, Sheriff Heap cites a litany of reasons to not release the video.
“I have weighed the public and private interests involved in the request to release such records”, wrote Heap, “and have determined that the public interest associated with bwc release do not outweigh the concerns over harm to the public interest, and private interests of the deceased in relation to these concerns. Therefore disclosure of the body camera footage should not occur.”
According to the D.A.’s seven page clearance letter released yesterday, and an earlier earlier CBS4 investigation of the incident, Poer had been acting erratically earlier that night believing he was being watched and recorded by unnamed people. The prosecutor who wrote the report said Poer was “delusional, erratic, and bizarre”. His family and friends suspect he was suffering from an episode of PTSD related to his military service.
He obtained the loaded .380 handgun of a friend. Poer then wandered on to a neighboring property in Elbert County and was firing the handgun, according to witness accounts.
When Elbert County deputies arrived, they said Poer was lying on his back in a field. They say when they approached, Poer rolled on his side and faced the deputies.
Deputies yelled repeated commands for Poer to show his hands but they say he did not comply. Deputies involved “later stated that they felt that Mr. Poer was trying to make the deputies shoot him,” according to the DA’s report.
The lawmen say they saw the gun at Poer’s feet and one deputy picked it up.
But they say Poer continued to struggle and would not show his hands. Deputies articulated that they were concerned he had another gun but could not handcuff Poer due to “active resistance.” Deputy Dickey then tasered Poer in the back and leg.
In short order, deputies observed that Poer did not have a pulse. Less than an hour later he was pronounced dead.
The coroner ruled the cause of death was associated with amphetamine intoxication, heart problems and “Taser deployment.”
Heap says he is denying release of the video footage partly because it would “include details of security procedures, or how officers will prepare, engage or react in any given situation.”
The sheriff suggests deputy safety may be compromised if the video were to be released as it shows law enforcement strategies and policies.
Heap goes on to write that another reason to not release the footage is because he anticipates the family of Matt Poer will file a civil lawsuit over the death. “…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.”
Heap writes that releasing the video could taint a potential jury pool “in a juridstiction such as Elbert County which has a small population from which a potential jury pool may be pulled from in the future litigation.”
Lastly, Heap says he will not release the bwc footage because it contains Matt Poer’s medical and personal information and he wants to respect the privacy interests of Poer and his family.
“These interests weigh heavily against the release of this body camera footage.”
But Poer’s mother called that rationale “bogus. I’m not buying that for a moment.”
By phone Thursday, she told CBS4, “I don’t know why they’re doing this. We would definitely appreciate the release of the body cam.”