District Attorney Michael Dougherty has determined the two City of Boulder officers who shot and killed a man were "legally justified." Credit: John Herrick

District Attorney Michael Dougherty has decided not to file criminal charges against two City of Boulder police officers who shot and killed a man earlier this year after responding to a domestic violence call. The DA determined the fatal shooting was “legally justified.” 

“Far too often, domestic violence situations explode into violence against a victim and responding police officers,” Dougherty said in a news release on Wednesday, July 12. “Police officers took steps to protect this victim and put themselves in harm’s way.” 

The man who was killed, Christopher Swanger, was 36. 

The incident began on May 25, when a woman called the police to report that Swanger was on his way to her house and had made threats against her. 

Swanger had two active felony domestic violence arrest warrants pending, according to a letter by Dougherty defending his decision. Three officers arrived on the scene at 1717 Baseline Road and waited for Swanger in part so they could arrest him, according to the letter. He arrived at 11:17 p.m. 

Officer Nathaniel Taylor confronted Swanger and told him to show his hands and get on the ground, according to the letter. Officer Collin Keith also approached Swanger with his gun drawn. Swanger walked away from the officers and did not get on the ground. 

Taylor shot a Taser at Swanger, who fell to the ground. Keith placed his knee on Swanger’s back to arrest him. Swanger rolled over, and Taylor saw a gun, according to the letter. Swanger then pointed his gun at Taylor, who fired three rounds at Swanger. 

Swanger then fired one round and missed both officers. It appears his gun misfired or malfunctioned after the first shot, according to the decision letter. 

Keith and Taylor fired at least a dozen shots. Swanger was later pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy report indicated he had methamphetamine in his blood. Substance use is a common thread in police shootings in Colorado. 

Dougherty said the officers were legally justified in using deadly force under Colorado law as means of protection. 

After the shooting, the officers were placed on paid administrative leave. They are yet to return to full duty, according to Dionne Waugh, a spokesperson for the Boulder Police Department. 

“We are very appreciative of the detailed investigation by the Critical Incident Response Team and the decision by the District Attorney’s Office,” Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold said in an email. “Our officers had to make a split-second decision that day based on their training that not only saved their lives but very likely the lives of others.” 

Dougherty said he plans to host a virtual town hall on July 17 to discuss his determination and share body camera footage with the public. 

Boulder County Investigation Team, a group of law enforcement officials from other jurisdictions that investigates use-of-force incidents, investigated the shooting. 

The Boulder Police Department has denied requests by Boulder Reporting Lab for body camera footage related to the incident, stating that releasing such information would be “contrary to the public interest” due to a pending investigation. Boulder Reporting Lab again requested the footage on Wednesday following the DA’s announcement that the investigation had concluded and he had declined to file charges. Again, the request was denied.

The Boulder Police Department is still investigating this case. The department is not aware of any complaints filed in response to the shooting, a spokesperson said.

City of Boulder police have shot and killed at least five people since 2013, according to media reports and state records. All of those officers have been cleared of wrongdoing, according to records from the District Attorney’s Office.

Update: This story was updated on July 13 at 4:40 p.m. with additional comments and information from the Boulder Police Department. 

John Herrick is senior reporter for Boulder Reporting Lab, covering housing, transportation, policing and local government. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for VTDigger.org. He is interested in stories about people, power and fairness. Email: john@boulderreportinglab.org.

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1 Comment

  1. Sounds like a justified shooting in an encounter BPD was trying their best to not shoot anyone.

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