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Red Flag Law Used Against Police Officer Involved in a Fatal Shooting

On July 1, 2017, Colorado man, Jeremy Holmes committed what investigators described as “suicide by cop.” According to police, they encountered Holmes and found that he was armed with a knife. Holmes was instructed to drop the knife over 30 times over a period of two minutes, and in the audio from over the officer’s body cameras- Holmes is heard demanding that the police shoot him where he stood.

Officer Phillip Morris started to return his gun to his holster so that he could incapacitate Holmes using a stun gun. It was at that moment when Holmes charged at Morris, forcing Morris and officer Erin Mast to shoot and kill him. Holmes died on the scene. He was 19 years old.

Both officers were later exonerated of any wrongdoing as the body camera audio and video showed that Holmes had forced the officers to use deadly force by charging at Morris with a knife. According to the Colorado State University Police Department, Morris was not disciplined as the camera footage, the available forensic evidence, Morris’ testimony, and that of officer Mast all clearly show that the officers were in the right when they fired on Holmes.

On January 1, 2020, the State of Colorado put into effect a red flag law which makes it possible for a legal gun owner to have his or her guns confiscated on the strength of an anonymous tip from the public.

According to local reporters at 9News, “Susan Holmes filed an extreme risk protection order (ERPO) petition against Cpl. Philip Morris in Larimer County on Jan. 9.”

In this version of the red flag law, as explained by 9News, “[…] a family member, cohabitant or law enforcement officer can submit an extreme risk protection order petition if a person can be considered to be a threat to themselves or others. A judge will then rule on the petition.”

In keeping with the spirit of these wholly un-American red flag laws, the hearing can be held without the person of interest’s knowledge- leaving out any possibility of confronting their accusers or preparing a defense. The order to confiscate the weapons can be given without due process. It is then up to the person of interest to prove that they are not a threat and apply to have their weapons returned, which can be costly and time-consuming.

It is not surprising that this law would be used by the vengeful family member of someone killed by a police officer. Still, this case is a prime example of how a person can be acting according to the expectations of their employer and within the law and still fall victim to red flag laws.

Colorado House Minority Leader Rep. Patrick Neville released a statement on Tuesday saying that this case shows the bill was “badly written.” He followed this with the following tweet, “We predicted this and said a falsely accused person has no recourse other than hoping a DA files charges. No recourse to recoup lost wages or reputation. One example of many about how this bill was so horribly written.”

On Wednesday, Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said he would not authorize the service of the petition to officer Morris.

If Morris were a private citizen, he would almost certainly lose his right to bear arms. These laws are patently unconstitutional. They violate due process, which is a cornerstone of our justice system- and a foundational right of every American citizen.


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