(CBS4) – CBS4 has learned that Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke is refusing to prosecute criminal cases involving Fort Lupton police officer Zachary Helbig, calling the officer “a danger to the community,” and saying, “I simply in good conscience cannot file charges in which Zachary Helbig is an essential witness. His decision making processes are dangerous to the people of my community.”
Earlier this year, a jury acquitted Helbig on a manslaughter charge for the Jan. 16, 2019, fatal shooting of Shawn Billinger, who was unarmed when Helbig fatally shot Billinger in the chest.
Rourke had taken that case to a grand jury which indicted Helbig on the felony manslaughter charge. The jury took about six hours to deliver a not guilty verdict. But the D.A. maintains the Billinger shooting was not justified. He said 10 law enforcement agencies told him it “was a bad shoot, that this was not a reasonable use of deadly physical force.”
Rourke acknowledged his stance of now not accepting criminal cases from Helbig is extraordinary but said “The public has had it with officer-involved shootings.”
He said Helbig did not have any issues around truthfulness that would cause problems if he testified.
“It’s not a credibility issue it’s a decision making issue and it’s a dangerousness-to-the-community issue,” Rourke said during an interview with CBS4.
Mallory Revel, an attorney who represented Helbig during his criminal trial, said “I think Officer Helbig is being blackballed. It is absolutely unfair and without justification impeding Mr. Helbig from making a living. He was acquitted by a jury of his peers. This is absolutely retaliatory and unfair.”
Rourke said this is the first time he has taken such a drastic step in his time as district attorney, but he believes it’s warranted. He said he was not only concerned about Helbig’s actions in the fatal shooting of Billinger, but about two other incidents. One came earlier in Helbig’s career, in 2016 when he was with another department and discharged a rifle and made what Rourke considered an inappropriate comment. He said Helbig remarked, “Damn, I shot the s–t out of that wall.” Rourke also said Helbig’s rifle discharge caused partial hearing loss for a fellow officer.
Then, in August of this year, Helbig, armed with a rifle, approached two suspects. Rourke said Helbig’s commands to the suspects were “inconsistent” with commands being given by other officers and that Helbig told a suspect, “Hands up dude, I’m gonna f—ing shoot you.” That prompted Rourke to write a letter on Aug. 14 to Fort Lupton’s police chief, saying “I cannot in good conscience have my office file a case in which an essential witness was indicted by a grand jury for manslaughter and who was tried (by) a jury of his peers as a result of his conduct as a law enforcement officer. I refuse to place my attorneys in the position of having to call Helbig as a witness in any proceeding.. Please accept this letter as formal notice… that I will no- file or dismiss any case in which Zachary Helbig is deemed to be an essential witness.”
Since then, Rourke has declined to prosecute two cases involving Helbig. One involved a drug case and the second was a traffic matter, according to Rourke.
The City of Fort Lupton has now gone to court, asking a Judge to order Rourke to prosecute cases Helbig brings to the DA. Andy Ausmus, an attorney representing Fort Lupton, testified that what Rourke was doing was “chilling for every police officer within the jurisdiction, and it is contrary to Colorado law. Mr. Rourke is dictating to the city of Fort Lupton who we can hire, and who we can’t hire.”
Ausmus said before Fort Lupton put Helbig back on the streets, the officer had to go through a psychiatric evaluation, which he passed, and extended field training. But since Rourke is refusing to accept Helbig’s cases, the officer has again been placed on paid administrative leave. Rourke says even if the judge orders him to pursue Helbig’s cases, he won’t, but will seek a special prosecutor.
Revel said “There’s absolutely nothing to support this claim that Officer Helbig is somehow a danger to the community. He was put in a horribly dangerous position where his life was on the line. He made the very difficult decision to act in self defense and he was acquitted. It was legally justified and he is not a danger to the community.”
“I’m not trying to blackball anybody”, said Rourke. “I’m trying to keep the community I represent safe.”