Columns » Ranger Rich

CSPD: How bout some target practice?

We're approaching the third anniversary of a big moment in our town's history a day when countless villagers could have been trampled to death by five escaped buffalo were it not for the brave actions and marksmanship of our police officers.

On that warm spring day, the officers confronted the five buffalo, took aim with their semi-automatic weapons and, in a burst of 83 bullets, shot two houses, a garage and a 1987 Ford Escort automobile.

The buffalo died, too. Apparently from laughing.

Today, as we creep closer on our hands and knees, with wolf pelts pulled up over us, to the commemoration of the 2005 Great Colorado Springs Buffalo Hunt, our district attorney is investigating another case involving an officer who probably isn't going to make the department's elite sharpshooter team. (Motto: "Ready. Aim. Close Your Eyes and Spin Around Three Times. Fire!")

In the latest incident, police tried to pull over a car being driven without headlights at 9:30 p.m. on April 5. The driver and passenger got out and ran away. An officer ordered them to stop. When they refused to obey his command, the officer drew his handgun and, in accordance with Section 2170-B of the police department's General Orders, shot Mike and Susan Kennedy's house.

The house suffered serious emotional stress and has since developed a rash. Doctors believe it's shingles.


Anyway, the headlight-scofflaw driver was caught nearby and then released. He argued successfully that while it was 9:30 p.m. in Colorado, when the law says your car's headlights must be on, he was born and raised in Denmark, where, at that same moment, because of the international dateline and time changes, there were no cars.

The passenger remains at large. He's described as weighing about 2,000 pounds with a big hump on his shoulders. He was last seen wearing a heavy brown fur coat.

Here you probably have many serious questions involving a police officer shooting at a fleeing suspect following a minor traffic stop. The questions may involve legal and social issues nearly as complex as, "How the hell do you aim at five buffalo and end up shooting two houses, a garage and a Ford Escort?"

It was May 9, 2005 and the buffalo who'd been told they were going on a field trip to see a movie became suspicious when Danny, the herd leader and the only one who could read, looked at the sign that read "G&C Meatpacking." So they ran and stopped about a block away. Officers arrived with rifles.

From the actual 14-page police report: "At 12:11 the first buffalo moves away from the herd and starts toward the officers' position ... and is gaining momentum into a trot."

And as you know, nothing makes you more irritable than a case of the trots.

One house and its garage were hit nine times. Another house, 11. The car was shot in the taillight area or, in strict auto industry terms, the "buttocks."

Somehow perhaps by ricocheting off Pikes Peak a few bullets even hit the buffalo.

"At 12:47," according to the actual report, "two buffalo ... are shot and go down but are still moving. Sgt. Hutcheson continues to fire at the buffalo to make sure they are dead."

Moments later, police confirmed the buffalo were dead by using the traditional method having then-County Commissioner Doug Bruce kick them.

And while that case is closed, our district attorney's office continues to probe the more recent shooting of a house, that April 5 incident on the east side of town.

No one in the DA's office would talk on the record this week about the investigation, but insiders say the decision whether to prosecute the officer who shot the house will hinge on one crucial question: Did the officer have the reasonable belief and the key legal word here is reasonable that the passenger in the car was actually a buffalo, or did he think it could have just been a guy in a buffalo costume?

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