By Logan Smith

(CBS4) — A Southern Ute Tribal Ranger was cleared of potential criminal responsibility for his role in the fatal shooting of a man who reached first for a knife and then a replica gun during a traffic stop two months ago.

The U.S. Attorney General’s Office for the District of Colorado announced the decision Thursday after notifying the family of the dead man, 53-year-old George Sands.

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“The evidence demonstrates that the Tribal Ranger’s actions were clearly justified under the self-defense doctrine,” said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn.

The unidentified ranger approached Sands on November 24, 2020, near the Weasel Skin Bridge on tribal property about seven miles south of Durango, according to USAG’s summary of the evidence. Sands and an unidentified female passenger were parked in a vehicle. The ranger intended to make sure the pair was not trespassing on tribal land.

Outside of the vehicle, Sands provided a false name and date of birth to the ranger. The false name was recognized by dispatchers as a known alias of Sands. The ranger was then told of an active felony warrant for Sands’s arrest.

Sands, at this point, ran back to the vehicle. The ranger chased him.

Sands attempted to pull a knife from the vehicle’s door but was unsuccessful, according to the investigation. He then grabbed a replica gun and moved it in the direction of the ranger. The ranger fired his gun six times, killing Sands.

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(credit: U.S. Attorney General’s Office, District of Colorado)

The investigation later determined Sands’s weapon was a replica or toy, though lacking the orange end cap or other markings that would make it visually distinguishable from a real firearm.

“Under federal law,” Dunn’s office stated in its press release, “a person may resort to self-defense if he or she reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm, thus necessitating an in-kind response.”

A search of online Colorado criminal records did not show information about Sands’s felony warrant, but did reveal a history of his arrests by the Durango Police Department and the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office beginning in 2000. His most recent arrest in 2017 was for failing to register as a sex offender after changing residence, his third time receiving that charge since a 2004 arrest for sexually assaulting a child.

Sands was twice sent to the Colorado Department of Corrections.

(credit: Colorado Department of Corrections)

The FBI performed the investigation into the November incident. The evidence included a civilian witness account, photographs, recorded radio communications of law enforcement, an autopsy report, a report from responding paramedics, and reports from the La Plata County Sherriff, the Southern Ute Police Department, the Southern Ute Tribal Rangers, and the Colorado State Patrol.

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Logan Smith