Boulder police tend to Coleman Stewart, 23, after officers shot him during a standoff on University Hill on May 30.
Boulder police tend to Coleman Stewart, 23, after officers shot him during a standoff on University Hill on May 30. (Photo by Jason Lutz)

Boulder County's district attorney Friday ruled that the three police officers who fired 10 shots at a University of Colorado student during a late-May standoff — injuring the 23-year-old in his arm and knee — were justified because the student displayed a BB gun that closely resembled a firearm.

District Attorney Stan Garnett released a letter to Boulder police Chief Greg Testa on Friday with the ruling, and indicated no charges will be filed against the officers who shot Coleman Stewart during the University Hill standoff on May 30.

"These officers were reasonable in their belief that they were about to come under fire, and used their weapons only until they were no longer presented with an imminent threat," Garnett wrote.

"While the weapon was ultimately determined to be a BB gun, it closely resembles a real firearm. Having pursued Mr. Stewart into his apartment, the officers had no reason to believe that Mr. Stewart would threaten them with a BB gun, nor can they reasonably be expected to unnecessarily risk their lives to make such an assumption under these circumstances."

The three Boulder police officers involved in the shooting were Nicholas C. Frankenreiter, Jacob R. Vaporis and Erin P. Starks. Frankenreiter and Vaporis were hired in July 2012, while Starks has been with the department since January 2009.

All three were placed on administrative leave pending the investigation, but the Boulder Police Department Friday said it is in the process of putting all three back on active duty.

"People have to remember the law requires that these situations be assessed from how it appeared to the officers involved," Garnett said in an interview on Friday. "If it looks like a real gun, they are not required to verify if it is real ammunition, especially in this situation."

Pamela Mackey, Stewart's attorney, could not be reached for comment.

According to Garnett's letter, Stewart, a student in CU's Continuing Education Program, got into a disagreement with a cab driver who alleged Stewart attempted to flee without paying.

The driver called police, and Stewart, who friends told investigators had been drinking and was in a "weird mood," that night, ran from the cab while Frankenreiter identified himself as a police officer and chased him.

Frankenrieter said Stewart went through a gate and to the door of his apartment at 1090 11th St. When Frankenreiter asked Stewart to open the gate, Stewart swore at him and went into the apartment, where officers continued trying to get Stewart to come out.

According to the report, Frankenreiter saw Stewart through a window approach the front door with what he believed was a handgun and point it at the door, and other officers then saw Stewart lift the blinds with the muzzle.

The officers shouted "gun!," and Frankenreiter fired twice, Starks fired five times and Vaporis fired three times. The shots went through the front door and picture window, and also struck a rock wall next to the door.

An officer on scene was hit in the thigh with a fragment that ricocheted off the rock wall, and Starks was hit in the eye with glass from the shattered window.

Stewart was hit with two shots, one in the right arm and one in the right knee.

He later surrendered to police, and was taken to a hospital for treatment. He was released from the hospital in June and charged with four counts of felony menacing and single counts of resisting arrest and obstructing a peace officer, both misdemeanors, and one count of theft of less than $50, a petty offense.

Stewart is due back in court Aug. 22.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Mitchell Byars at 303-473-1329, byarsm@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/mitchellbyars.