Civil rights lawsuit against Grand County sheriff, deputy settled
October 1, 2010
GRAND COUNTY – The civil rights lawsuit against the Grand County Sheriff’s Department and one of its former deputies, filed by the man the deputy shot, has been settled.
Just four days after a federal judge ordered a jury trial for the case of David Christopher Dalgarn, the then-23-year-old man who was shot in Tabernash on Oct. 6, 2008, the parties reached an agreement.
Terms were not disclosed in the joint stipulated motion to dismiss the case, dated Sept. 24, and both parties either did not return calls or declined to comment.
An Oct. 12 trial date had been set, and the judge’s order implied that the plaintiff had a strong case.
Dalgarn’s lawsuit alleged that his civil rights were violated when former Grand County Sheriff’s Deputy Rochalle Rooks rammed Dalgarn’s car, then shot him, rendering Dalgarn paralyzed for life.
Judge Christine M. Arguello of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado supported the plaintiff claims, citing case law and excerpts of testimony throughout her 24-page, Sept. 20 order sending the case to trial by jury.
There was sufficient evidence, she wrote, to allow a jury to decide whether Rooks used “excessive force” and whether the Grand County Sheriff’s Department was liable for failing to properly train Rooks for duty.
Sheriff Rod Johnson said he “would like to comment” but had “been advised by his attorneys not to.”
One of Rooks’ attorneys, Andrew Ringel of Denver, declined to comment as well.
“The court finds Plaintiff has met his burden showing that Rooks violated Plaintiff’s right to be free from excessive force when he collided with Plaintiff’s car,” Arguello wrote in her order.
“The evidence generally suggests the (sheriff’s) department knew Rooks needed training, yet failed to provide it.”
Rooks, a Grand County deputy from August 2005 until his voluntary resignation in October 2009, pursued Dalgarn in a chase the night of the incident without a functioning siren on his vehicle, according to Arguello’s order.
He had observed Dalgarn speeding and “recklessly” driving, breaking several traffic laws, and after Fraser-Winter Park Police After Officer Roy Ybarra announced over the radio that he was “en route and could set up ‘stop sticks’ outside Fraser” to stop the suspect, Rooks “intentionally rammed Plaintiff’s car on the driver’s side,” according to the federal judge’s recount of the case.
Both Dalgarn – who was unarmed – and Rooks exited their cars and, according to the judge’s order, two witnesses said that Rooks shot Dalgarn just seconds later without warning, discharging as many as 11 rounds from his semi-automatic service pistol.
“Given this evidence, the court finds Plaintiff has met his burden of showing Rooks used excessive force in shooting Plaintiff,” Arguello wrote.
Three of the bullets struck Dalgarn at close range, one of which was responsible for his immediate paralysis, according to Arguello’s order.
Dalgarn is expected to be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life as a result of the shooting.
The judge’s synopsis conceded that the details of what happened immediately before the shooting are disputed, such as whether words were exchanged or whether Dalgarn touched the deputy.
Rooks told investigators from the 14th Judicial District Attorney’s office that Dalgarn repeatedly tried to disarm him and that he warned Dalgarn more than once that he would shoot him if he persisted.
Under Colorado law, attempting to disarm a police officer constitutes use of deadly force and therefore Rooks was justified in shooting Dalgarn, according to the DA’s report about the incident.
Neither Dalgarn nor his lawyers would provide testimony during the DA’s investigation.
Sheriff on trial
Arguello’s order also considered evidence showing Rooks “needed training” yet the Grand County Sheriff’s Office “failed to provide it.”
His pre-employment screening was less than favorable, and other possible evidence suggested that a Grand County sergeant at the time “expressed concern over Rooks’ performance,” but department heads allegedly treated the concern with little regard. Rooks’ driving record was also deemed suspect, according to depositions cited in the judge’s order.
“At the time of his application, Rooks had been in two car accidents within three years and had received seven traffic citations within eight years. And while employed by the department, Rooks caused a roll-over accident while off-duty in his own car,” the judge cited. “Another time he drove his patrol car into a pole in the parking lot.”
The evidence cited in the judge’s order also suggested Rooks “had poor judgment using a firearm.”
Grand County “Undersheriff Walt Eldridge, testifying on behalf of the department, admitted those observations should have been a ‘concern’ to the department hiring Rooks,” Arguello wrote in support of her decision to move the case to trial.
For his actions on that October night in 2008, Dalgarn was sentenced in Grand County District Court on Aug. 10, 2009, to two years of supervised probation.
Two hours before he was sentenced, Dalgarn had filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Denver, seeking both actual and exemplary damages from both Rooks and the Sheriff’s Department.
The court order on the motion to dismiss the lawsuit for reasons of an undisclosed settlement is “with prejudice,” meaning neither party may revisit the lawsuit on the same issues in the future.