PUEBLO, Colo. (KDVR) — Several Pueblo County Sheriff’s deputies and a sergeant have been named in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a man shot and killed by a deputy last year.
The family and attorney representing the estate of Richard Ward spoke about the lawsuit in a press conference on Tuesday.
“I want justice and accountability for my family and for my brother,” Richard’s brother, Eddie Ward Stamp, said.
The Critical Incident Response Team — made up of personnel from the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office, Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Colorado State Patrol and Pueblo Police Department — investigated the shooting and found the actions of the two deputies directly involved were justified. The two are not facing criminal charges.
“The Pueblo County sheriffs have lost sight when they respond to a peaceful innocent, unarmed young man by dragging him out of the car, shooting him point blank in the chest in front of children, and then lying about it, saying that he was the aggressor,” Mari Newman, the attorney for Ward’s family, said.
FOX31 asked the Sheriff’s Office for comment and it said it had not seen the lawsuit yet.
Deputies respond to ‘suspicious male’ at middle school
The incident took place around 3:23 p.m. on Feb. 22, 2022, when the Sheriff’s Office was called to Liberty Point International Middle School. There was a report of a suspicious man who was acting strangely and trying to open car doors while parents were lined up to pick up their kids, the CIRT report said.
Deputies Charles McWhorter and Cassandra Gonzales arrived separately and contacted Richard Ward, who was sitting in the back seat of a Lexus with his mother and her boyfriend, the document read.
The rear passenger door to the Lexus that Ward was sitting in was open, and McWhorter asked him what he was doing there, according to the report. Ward told him he was there to pick up his little brother and gave two names, the document said. Ward’s mother, Kristy, was sitting in the front passenger seat and said he has two brothers and those were their names.
Ward told the deputies he doesn’t like law enforcement because of past history with them, then McWhorter asked him if he had any weapons on him, the CIRT report said. Ward said he might have a pocket knife and then removed two lighters from his pocket. The document said Ward turned away from McWhorter and allegedly put something in his mouth.
McWhorter asked him what he just put in his mouth and pulled him out of the vehicle. A struggle ensued with McWhorter and Gonzales trying to restrain Ward, then three shots were fired by the deputy, according to the document.
Ward died from gunshot wounds to the chest and throat, the document said.
Bodycam video shows deputy’s encounter with Ward
Ward had been reported to be acting strangely, and McWhorter is heard on body camera video asking him if he was under the influence of anything, to which Ward said “no.”
McWhorter is seen on video pulling Ward out of the car after he asked him what he put in his mouth and trying to get him to the ground. Ward can be heard telling McWhorter it was a pill as he pulled him out of the car.
McWhorter’s body camera goes blurry and Ward can be heard saying, “Yeah boy,” while McWhorter repeatedly tells him to stop resisting. The struggle continues and then three shots are heard. Screams can be heard following the shots and then the deputies calling for help.
When Gonzales was interviewed by members of the CIRT team, she said she was trying to hold down Ward’s legs while he was wrestling with McWhorter. She told the investigators that Ward was “grabbing at Deputy McWhorter’s duty belt and he was not letting go.”
Gonzales said she was not sure if Ward had a hold of McWhorter’s gun as his duty belt was out of her sight, the CIRT interview said.
Both McWhorter and Gonzales kept their body cameras active while other deputies and Pueblo Fire arrived at the scene.
Autopsy reveals drugs in Ward’s system at time of death
The official coroner’s report said Ward died of gunshot wounds to the throat, mid-chest and near his upper mid-clavicle, collarbone area, the CIRT report said.
During the autopsy, two pills were found in Ward’s pockets. One was identified as an anxiety pill and the other was unknown, the report said.
The toxicology report showed there was lorazepam, methadone, gabapentin, THC, hydroxyzine and methamphetamine in Ward’s system at the time of his death.
Lawsuit: Deputies did not try to help Ward after shooting
The CIRT report said the deputies admitted they were going to render aid but did not do so because of the people in the car.
McWhorter said he closed the doors to the car after the shooting and that he “would have felt vulnerable if he was down on the ground assisting Richard as the door would only offer concealment, not cover,” the report read.
The lawsuit claims the deputies did not do anything to help Ward after he was shot.
“Though Richard survived for some time after Deputy McWhorter shot him, writhing in pain and shock, neither Deputy McWhorter nor Deputy Gonzales made any effort to provide first aid or to attempt life-saving measures. They did not so much as place pressure on Richard’s obvious bullet wounds, or even attempt to take a pulse,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also claims Ward’s mother, Kristy, and her boyfriend, Tommy, were handcuffed and placed in police vehicles and then taken to the station for questioning.
“Defendants McWhorter and Gonzales acted intentionally, knowingly, willfully, wantonly, maliciously and/or recklessly in disregard to Mr. Ward’s federally protected rights, and acted under the preexisting and ongoing deliberately indifferent custom, policy, practice training, and supervision of Defendant Pueblo County acting under color of state law,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit cites violations of the Fourth Amendment and the Colorado Constitution, Article II, Section 7: excessive force, battery causing wrongful death. Other claims for relief in the lawsuit are unlawful arrest, unlawful seizure of property and retaliation.
“The fact that the district attorney’s letter claims that Richard was the aggressor, of course, is no surprise because what we see time and time again is district attorneys standing up to protect law enforcement officers who have done wrong. And that’s exactly what happened here,” Newman said.
The other civil rights attorney representing the Ward estate, Darold Killmer, said the deputies should be charged with murder but haven’t been punished more than a “slap on the wrist.”