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On February 22, 2022
32-year-old Richard Ward was shot and killed by Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Charles McWhorter outside Liberty Point International Middle School in Pueblo West. Ward had been waiting in a pickup line to pick up his brother when the incident occurred. According to body camera footage released by attorneys representing Ward’s family, McWhorter approached Ward, who was sitting in his mother’s car, and asked him “what’s going on?” Ward explained that he was there to pick up his brother, but became nervous when McWhorter touched his arm. Ward told McWhorter that he didn’t like cops because they had done things to him in the past. In the moments that followed, Ward was seen putting something in his mouth while McWhorter spoke to him.
Deputies Arrive on Scene After Ward Accidentally Enters Wrong Vehicle
Reports indicate that deputies arrived on the scene after Ward accidentally entered another vehicle that looked like his mother’s SUV. The bodycam footage shows McWhorter approaching Ward, who is now seated in his mother’s vehicle, and asking him questions. However, the encounter quickly turned violent when McWhorter pulled Ward out of the vehicle and a struggle ensued on the ground.
Ward Shot Without Warning Despite Being Unarmed
In the struggle, Ward was seen putting something in his mouth before McWhorter yanked him out of the car. Ward said “It’s a pill. Let me go!” before McWhorter shot him three times in the chest at point-blank range. Shockingly, neither McWhorter nor another deputy on the scene, Cassandra Gonzales, provided medical care to Ward as he lay bleeding on the ground. McWhorter did not give Ward orders before pulling him from the car and never gave a warning that he was going to use deadly force.
Deputies Claim Justification for Use of Force
An October decision letter from the DA’s critical incident team stated that McWhorter and Gonzalez were justified in using force under the defense of self and defense of others provisions of Colorado law. In interviews with investigators, McWhorter claimed that Ward was grabbing his duty belt and he feared that Ward would take his gun. However, the video evidence shows a different story.
Wrongful-Death Lawsuit Filed Against Pueblo County and Sheriff’s Officials
Ward’s family filed a federal lawsuit against the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday, alleging that McWhorter and other sheriff’s officials used “reckless use of force” when they shot and killed Ward. The lawsuit claims that McWhorter “recklessly and deliberately initiated a wholly unnecessary and purposeless physical use of force against and struggle with Mr. Ward.” The lawsuit also alleges that McWhorter could have taken several other measures, such as ordering Ward to spit out the pill, ordering him to step out of the car, or ordering him to present his hands, to avoid the violent altercation that led to Ward’s death.
Internal Investigation Ongoing
An internal investigation is currently ongoing to determine whether McWhorter and Gonzales should be disciplined for their actions. The Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, Gayle Perez, has stated that the department has made changes to improve its de-escalation training in response to the shooting.
Medal of Valor Recipient Involved in Fatal Shooting
It is worth noting that McWhorter was awarded the Medal of Valor by the
Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office in 2019, just three years before the shooting that resulted in Ward’s death. The Medal of Valor is awarded to officers who have shown extraordinary bravery in the line of duty, often for acts of heroism that put their own lives at risk.
Community Outrage and Calls for Accountability
The shooting of Richard Ward has sparked outrage in the community, with many people questioning the justification for the use of deadly force in this case. Members of the community, along with Ward’s family and their attorneys, are calling for accountability and justice for Ward’s death. The lawsuit filed by Ward’s family is just one step in the process of holding law enforcement officers accountable for their actions.
The shooting of Richard Ward by Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office deputies has raised questions about the use of force by law enforcement officers, particularly in cases where the individual is unarmed. Ward’s family is seeking justice for his death through a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office. The internal investigation into the incident is ongoing, and the community is calling for accountability and changes to police training and policies to prevent similar tragedies in the future.