WELD COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) — A Weld County judge has offered a damaging assessment of Fort Lupton Police Officer Zachary Helbig, agreeing with the local district attorney that Helbig “is too dangerous to other people in this community… poses a danger to public safety,” and “is a damaged goods police officer because his reputation precedes him.”
The ruling from District Court Judge Shannon Lyons of the 19th Judicial District came after Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke said he would no longer accept or prosecute cases involving Helbig as a witness due to his belief that Helbig poses “a danger to the community.”
Earlier this year, a Weld County jury acquitted Helbig on a felony manslaughter charge for the January 16, 2019 fatal shooting of Shawn Billinger, who was unarmed when Helbig fatally shot Billinger in the chest as Billinger advanced on the officer.
District Attorney Michael Rourke had taken the case to a grand jury which indicted Helbig on the manslaughter charge. But the D.A. maintained after the acquittal the Billinger shooting was not justified saying it “was a bad shoot.”
After the acquittal, Helbig went through a psychological evaluation and re- training and the Fort Lupton police department put him back on the street. However this past August, Helbig was involved in another incident that caught Rourke’s attention. He was involved in the arrest of two suspects in a menacing case. Other officers were ordering the suspects to the ground but Helbig began giving contradictory orders to the suspects to show their hands, saying if they didn’t, “I’m going to f—ing shoot you.”
After that, Rourke wrote a letter to the Fort Lupton police chief saying he would no longer prosecute cases involving Helbig 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 in my community.”
Rourke has refused to accept several cases involving Helbig as a witness.
Fort Lupton police challenged Rourke’s position, asking a judge to force the district attorney to prosecute cases involving Helbig.
In a 17-page written ruling obtained this week by CBS4, Judge Lyons mostly agreed with the D.A.’s critical assessment of Helbig.
“Officer Helbig may not have a basic awareness of police protocols and procedures, that he deviates from his assigned role at critical moments, that he is anxious to use threats or violence, and that he may not have internalized any meaningful lessons from his indictment, trial, and remedial training. The District Attorney has reached the conclusion that Officer Zachary Helbig is too dangerous to other people in this community. The Court finds that conclusion to be reasonable and warranted based on the arguments made at the hearing.”
Lyons went on to write that Rourke’s conclusions about Helbig “is supported by reasonable grounds.”
Mallory Revel, Helbig’s attorney, told CBS4, “We disagree that Mr. Rourke’s overarching concerns about Officer Helbig’s character are in any way valid. To the contrary, Officer Helbig’s record and his supervisors make it clear he is an asset to this Department and to the citizens of Fort Lupton.”
Rourke called the judge’s ruling “very well- reasoned and thorough.”
The judge, however, rebuked District Attorney Rourke saying he “acted arbitrarily and without reasonable excuse when he refused the (August 2020 prosecution) solely due to Officer Helbig’s character for violence or history of threatening the use of force… All such cases must be reviewed on an individualized basis to determine whether the filing of charges is or is not warranted based on the totality of the relevant circumstances.”
Lyons ruled the Colorado Attorney General’s Office should prosecute the August 2020 menacing case that Rourke refused to accept due to Helbig’s involvement, and Lyons said other cases involving Helbig would have to be evaluated for prosecution on a case-by-case basis. Rourke has now challenged that ruling saying other district attorneys should act as special prosecutors in cases involving Helbig, not the Attorney General’s office.
Rourke previously told CBS4 he was not trying to blackball Helbig and did not have any issues with the officer’s credibility.
“Its not a credibility issue its a decision making issue and its a dangerousness-to-the-community issue,” said Rourke.
Revel previously said the Fort Lupton police department has had to again take Helbig off the streets given the current legal controversy surrounding his employment.