ELBERT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – The new sheriff in Elbert County, Tim Norton, has released to CBS4 previously-suppressed body camera footage of the controversial 2018 death of Christopher ‘Matt’ Poer.
”I don’t see what there was to hide, plain and simple,” he said.
The previous sheriff, Shayne Heap, had refused to release the video to CBS4 citing a litany of reasons to keep the video under wraps. But three months after taking over the sheriff’s department, Norton and Elbert County undersheriff Dave Fisher shared the 30 minute video with CBS4 hoping to dispel rumors and suspicion that have surrounded Poer’s death at the hands of Elbert County deputies.
“I don’t see any reason for holding it back,” said Norton.
“The aura is they (the deputies) killed this guy and that’s not what happened,” Fisher said.
Former Sheriff Shayne Heap cited numerous reasons for not complying with a CBS4 open records request for the tape including his contention that if shown, the body cam video would show “details of security procedures or how officers will prepare, engage or react in any given situation.”
Norton disagreed with that assessment telling CBS4, “I didn’t see any security issues.”
Poer, 46, was a former Green Beret who served in Iraq and Afghanistan who had traveled to Elbert County in 2018 to obtain a service dog. His family said he suffered from PTSD.
During his time in Elbert County, he stayed with a woman named Elaine Holt, who trains service dogs.
But on the evening of April 12, 2018, Poer called the Elbert County sheriff and described how he was under surveillance by unnamed people and claiming he had been robbed. Investigators described Poer’s story as “delusional, erratic, and bizarre.”
Holt told deputies that Poer was seeing things and hearing voices and he had her gun.
When two Elbert county deputies arrived at Holt’s home, Poer had left with her loaded .380 pistol and was wandering through a nearby field firing shots and yelling incoherently, according to witnesses.
When the deputies found Poer in the field, he was lying on his back and was “partially concealed” according to official reports. They saw a handgun near Poer’s foot and seized it. But they say they were unsure if Poer had another weapon under him and say he refused to show his hands and comply with the deputies’ orders.
So Deputy Chris Dickey deployed his taser, shocking Poer.
“He was not complying with commands, not showing his hands,” said Norton.
The audio on the body cam video is clear, although the pictures are dark, and precisely what the deputies saw and how they reacted is not entirely apparent from the nighttime video.
When the deputies come upon Poer, they can be heard yelling, ”Put your hands up or I’m going to shoot your a–… hands up or I’m going to shoot you.. hands up do it now!”
Dickey — who has since retired — shocks Poer twice with his taser and then can be heard saying, ”Deep breath everyone, relax.”
He initially says medical help should be summoned “just to check him out.” But within a couple minutes, Dickey notices Poer is unresponsive.
”He’s foaming at the mouth,” said Dickey. Over the radio Dickey said, ”expedite medical, party is foaming at the mouth”.
Within minutes, the deputies can’t find a pulse for Poer and can be seen on the video frantically performing CPR.
“Come on Chris, wake up brother,” urged one of the deputies.
Poer never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead later that night. The coroner said Poer’s death was associated with amphetamine intoxication, an enlarged heart and the Taser deployment. The coroner characterized Poer as having a “toxic, lethal level of amphetamine in his blood.”
He also suffered from hypertension, obesity, chronic alcohol abuse and congestive heart failure.
Dickey and the other deputies were cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in the case and the use of the Taser was justified according to prosecutors. After reviewing the tape with CBS4, Norton said, ”I’m not ashamed of what they (the deputies) did. They did everything correctly. Nothing that my deputies did was wrong. There was nothing to hide in my opinion. Officers did what they were trained to do and responded professionally and respectfully during the whole incident.”
Norton said the tape,” shows we did our job and could not have done anything different to be honest with you.”
”They didn’t go there to have this happen,” said Fisher.
He agreed a lack of information about what happened at the outset, and the refusal by the previous sheriff to release the body cam video created suspicion and distrust.
“There was a lot of misinformation that got out because of not having the facts out. There was no media contacted by the sheriff’s office to get any information out so it would appear to the public the right message was not getting out and there was something to hide.”
CBS4 emailed former Sheriff Shayne Heap, who declined to release the tape, but he did not immediately respond. Sherry Poer, Matt Poer’s mother, told CBS4, “My main concern is that the truth comes out. There are many discrepancies, and I believe facts were rearranged to cover up their needless aggressive behavior.”
Poer’s mother filed a federal lawsuit last month against Elbert County and others over the case calling it a wrongful death and negligence.