A former University of Colorado Boulder student has sued five police officers who opened fire on him in 2014 after a standoff that began over a cab fare and ended with SWAT officers driving an armored vehicle through a yard to apprehend him.
Cole Stewart, who police said brandished a BB gun at them, was shot multiple times and then arrested for felony menacing and obstructing a police officer. The Colorado Court of Appeals reversed his conviction on the charges, and now Stewart is asking a federal jury to award him compensation, claiming police grossly overstepped their authority. He seeks more than $1 million in damages.
“Although his rights were trampled by the Boulder police, he was criminally charged for allegedly threatening the lives of the officers who shot him, all over a $4.85 cab fare,” the lawsuit said.
Efforts to reach the Boulder Police Department Wednesday morning were unsuccessful. Previously, Boulder officers have claimed that they only fired shots when one officer yelled that Stewart was armed, according to published reports.
The case has made headlines for years because of the commotion it caused and the back-and-forth over criminal charges.
The incident started after Stewart, who had been drinking with friends, called a taxi to get home. During the ride, Stewart asked the driver to let him out because he believed the cabbie was driving erratically. Instead, the cabbie drove to a police annex building with tires screeching and horn blaring to catch the attention of an officer because he thought Stewart wasn’t going to pay his fare, the lawsuit said.
Stewart, then 27, jumped out and ran home. Officer Nicholas Frankenreiter chased Stewart to his fenced apartment yard and called for backup, the lawsuit said. Frankenreiter and another officer approached the door with guns drawn, the lawsuit said. But Frankenreiter had jumped a fence without a warrant and their approach constituted an illegal search, the lawsuit said.
Officer Jacob Vaporis entered the yard and shouted that he saw a gun. He then fired three shots through the door, the lawsuit said. Officer Erin Starks also said he saw a gun pointed at him and began firing. Frankenreiter also started shooting his gun, it said. Together they fired 10 shots, striking Stewart twice.
But the lawsuit claims that Stewart never had a gun.
Two bullets ricocheted off a stone column, causing shrapnel to strike one officer. That led police on scene to radio that an officer was down, and SWAT arrived.
SWAT drove a Bearcat armored vehicle through the fence and the front door and removed Stewart from the home without first rendering medical aid for gunshot wounds to his right knee and right arm. He had been bleeding on the apartment floor for two hours, the lawsuit said.
Officers found a replica BB gun behind the front door, but the lawsuit said a shooting scene reconstruction will prove that officers lied about where they were and what they saw when they opened fire.