Attempted murder trial begins

Man shot by Cortez police after allegedly pulling gun on March 19, 2011

The trial of a local man shot by police and accused of attempted murder began Tuesday with opening statements and testimony.

Zachary Sullivan, 31, is accused of pulling a gun on two local law officers in the early hours of March 19, 2011 south of Cortez. The incident resulted in the non-fatal shooting of Sullivan.

District Attorney for the 22nd Judicial District, Russell Wasley told the jury Cortez Police Officer Dallas Coker and Montezuma County Sheriff’s Deputy Patrick Spencer feared for their safety and shot Sullivan in response to a direct threat of a gun pointed at Coker.

“Coker could see that Sullivan had a gun in his hand,” Wasley said. “And more importantly, Coker could see that Sullivan had his finger on the trigger. ... he thought he was going to die.”’

Wasley said a 9mm handgun was found on scene jammed with a partially chambered round. Further, he said a box of ammunition and a clip were later found in the defendant’s underpants.

Although originally thought to not be recorded, a video recording shot from inside Spencer’s patrol vehicle was later recovered. Although much of the view of the incident is obscured by Coker’s patrol car, Wasley told the jury the video is authentic and encouraged them to watch the body language and faces of the officers involved.

“Rick Spencer was running for his life,” Wasley said. “That would have to be a very, very elaborate staging, if it was at all possible.”

Representing Sullivan, attorney John Baxter accused Coker of having a problem with the defendant’s teardrop tattoo.

“They overreacted. They ended up shooting Zach in the back as he was running away,” he said.

Baxter pointed out what he believes to be holes in the case, such as a lack of recording by Coker’s patrol car camera, no recording from his uniform camera, and no gun residue testing conducted on Sullivan.

A teardrop tattoo on a person’s face is sometimes defined as a person who has been in prison.

Baxter also argued that DNA and fingerprints found on the gun did not belong to Sullivan. Wasley had said those tests were inconclusive.

“He’s not guilty of what they’re alleging he did,” Baxter said.

In previous hearings, Coker testified that he responded in the early hours of March 19 to a report of an intoxicated pedestrian in the roadway. After locating Sullivan walking on the side of the road, Coker said he asked the man for his name and date of birth.

After the man’s hand lingered in his pocket after putting his phone away, Coker said he requested Sullivan submit to a pat-down search for officer safety. Coker said Sullivan then walked away, turned and pointed a gun at him.

Coker and Spencer opened fire on the man. He was airlifted to Denver where he was treated and released for multiple gunshot wounds.

Officers involved in the shooting have been cleared of charges following an investigation by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the 22nd Judicial District Attorney.

In prior hearings, the right of Coker to stop and search the defendant was called into question by Baxter, but was upheld by Chief Judge Douglas Walker. However, Walker did rule parts of the search warrants issued in the case were overreaching and threw out some of the evidence seized.

The trial is expected to continue through the week at 22nd Judicial District Court.

Reach Reid Wright at reidw@cortezjournal.com