The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office deputy who deployed his Taser on a man on Interstate 25 who was then fatally struck by a car will not face criminal charges, the 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office announced Friday.
The decision comes five months after Deputy Lorenzo Lujan shocked 28-year-old Brent Thompson with a Taser as Thompson fled from a traffic stop across a dark portion of the northbound lanes of I-25 near the Mountain Vista exit the evening of Feb. 18. Thompson was immobile on the interstate when an oncoming car fatally struck him.
The Critical Incident Response Team was tasked with investigating Lujan’s actions, and that investigation was presented to 8th Judicial District Attorney Gordon McLaughlin, who determined there was not probable cause to charge Lujan.
Lujan was placed on paid administrative leave immediately following this incident and returned to work in early July in a non-enforcement capacity while waiting for the CIRT investigation to conclude, Sheriff John Feyen told the Coloradoan. He remains employed as a deputy. An internal investigation into this case is ongoing and is expected to be completed within the next few days, Feyen said.
The sheriff’s office also expects to release the body camera footage and an additional statement next week.
Attorneys representing Thompson’s family told the Coloradoan that McLaughlin’s decision shows law enforcement officers are held to a different standard than the general public.
“Tasing a person on the interstate is a death sentence,” Rathod Mohamedbhai Attorneys at Law said in a statement.
According to Taser, the dominant manufacturer of Conducted Electrical Weapons, a circumstance like this has never happened before, in which a Taser is deployed on a roadway and the target individual dies from a different means, McLaughlin said in his letter. His office “dedicated an unprecedented amount of resources and attention” to this case.
While McLaughlin cleared the deputy of any criminal culpability, he did find instances where he believes increased training or different choices could have led to a less tragic outcome.
“(Lujan’s) actions show poor judgment and possibly a need for additional and more robust training, but not criminal culpability,” McLaughlin said.
What led up to Thompson’s death
McLaughlin outlined the events leading up to Thompson’s death in his decision letter released Friday. Here’s what CIRT investigators said happened:
Lujan spotted a vehicle in the parking lot of the Best Value Inn & Suites on Mulberry Street with expired registration. The vehicle also seemed suspicious to Lujan because it was idling while parked at two different spots in the parking lot.
When the car left the lot, Lujan followed it onto the southeast Frontage Road and then onto I-25 after it “made a last-second maneuver” onto the northbound I-25 on-ramp.
Lujan continued following the vehicle on the interstate and turned on his lights to pull over the car as they approached the exit for Mountain Vista Drive. The driver — later identified as Thompson — took the exit and stopped at the top of the off ramp.
Thompson gave Lujan a false name, provided him with expired registration and insurance, and appeared to be under the influence. Investigators later determined Thompson had used fentanyl earlier that day and a toxicology report noted he had a high level in his system.
Lujan and Cpl. Matthew Bordewick — who had arrived as backup — confronted Thompson about providing a false name and tried to arrest him, but Thompson ran west down an embankment toward I-25.
Lujan said, “stop or you’re gonna get Tased, stop,” as he chased Thompson, who attempted to jump over the guardrail but tripped and stumbled into the shoulder of the northbound side of the interstate.
Lujan deployed his Taser for one cycle (five seconds), and as he approached Thompson, he said he saw a car traveling toward them that was “closer than expected.”
Bordewick attempted to use his flashlight to get the driver’s attention to stop the car, but it was unsuccessful. The oncoming vehicle hit Thompson, who was in the right lane. Lujan was in the left lane, and Bordewick was in the shoulder at the time of the crash. The investigation revealed Thompson was shocked by the Taser 5.6 seconds before the car hit him.
Lujan moved Thompson to the side of the road and provided medical aid. Thompson was transported to the hospital where he died from his injuries less than an hour after Lujan followed him out of the hotel parking lot.
The driver of the vehicle that hit Thompson stayed on scene and was cooperative with investigators, who determined the driver was in no way at fault in this case.
Why McLaughlin determined he wouldn’t file criminal charges
McLaughlin determined that Lujan is not criminally liable in Thompson’s death, but with “the luxury of time,” he identified different choices the deputy could have made that could have led to a less tragic outcome.
But McLaughlin said his role is only to determine if criminal charges are warranted, not to determine if the sheriff’s office department policy was violated or if there were things the deputy could have done differently.
McLaughlin said this case did not meet the requirements necessary to file a charge of criminally negligent homicide — the main charge he considered in his review — because Lujan’s decision to deploy his Taser on Thompson was not a “gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise,” per state law.
McLaughlin said evidence shows that Lujan believed “he was acting in a way that would reduce risk” to Thompson and people driving on the interstate, but in hindsight “his belief with respect to other motorists appears to have been incorrect, as the deputy seems to have exacerbated an already dangerous situation by temporarily immobilizing Mr. Thompson in a roadway with oncoming traffic.”
McLaughlin said investigators can’t know for certain if Lujan’s actions minimized possible injuries to other motorists, but that’s what Lujan believed based on the information he had at the moment.
“While the result of this decision was tragic, as a legal matter, once he decided that he could minimize injury by stopping Mr. Thompson from crossing the highway, the use of the Taser was probably the only use of force he had available,” McLaughlin said. “Thus, while the decision to use force at all and to use it on the interstate raise reasonable questions of judgment, the mere choice of the Taser (given its typical less-than-lethal characteristics) would not appear to violate the use of force statute.”
McLaughlin also noted that Lujan was justified in pursuing Thompson, despite the low-level crimes he was suspected of at the time.
“While it is reasonable for the community to ask whether any pursuit of Mr. Thompson was necessary under the circumstances presented here, that is not the legal question that must be answered by the District Attorney,” McLaughlin said in his letter. “Under Colorado law, an officer is given the authority and, in fact, is expected to arrest persons suspected of engaging in criminal behavior.”
Lujan told investigators he thought he had time to deploy his Taser to stop Thompson from running further onto the interstate and “take him safely into custody” before any vehicles came, and his goal was to get Thompson out of the middle of the road to prevent a crash.
McLaughlin said evidence supports that was Lujan’s intent, and “while in retrospect it is clear he used poor, and ultimately tragic, judgment in deploying his Taser after Mr. Thompson was already in the traffic lanes of I-25, the split-second decisions here were not formed with evil intent and were made after a quick assessment of the possible dangers to Mr. Thompson and any motorists that may be impacted by his fleeing across the lanes of travel.”
With “the luxury of time” and hindsight, here’s what McLaughlin said Lujan could have done differently:
Deploy his Taser sooner, before Thompson reached the interstate, though Lujan told investigators he wasn’t able to catch up with Thompson until Thompson tripped over the guardrail getting onto the interstate.
Stopped pursuing Thompson and let him run across the road, which “would likely have led to a less tragic result.”
But the question of if the deputy was criminally responsible “does not rest on the fact that his decision was not the best, or correct, one under the circumstances,” McLaughlin said.
Feyen defended the deputy’s actions, acknowledging that “deputies are routinely faced with making split-second decisions in rapidly changing environments, and they don’t have the comfortable luxury of hindsight in those moments.”
“In this case, the suspect’s decisions created a potentially hazardous situation for motorists and the deputy was forced to make a choice: take action and try to prevent harm to the public, or stand back passively and hope no innocent people got hurt,” Feyen said in an email statement to the Coloradoan.
McLaughlin said that, if Thompson had survived, the DA’s office would have filed 10 charges against him, including a felony weapons possession charge for a gun that belonged to Thompson found in the car; six misdemeanors; and three traffic violations. Because he was out on bond at the time, he would have also been charged with violation of bond conditions.
Larimer County Sheriff’s Office policy on Tasers
The sheriff’s office policy states that a deputy may deploy their Taser if:
A person is violent or is physically resisting
A person has demonstrated an intention to be violent or physically resist and appears to present the potential to harm themselves or others
Department policy also indicates several factors in which deputies should avoid using their Tasers “unless the totality of the circumstances indicates that other available options reasonably appear ineffective or would present a greater danger,” including if an individual is somewhere or doing something that may result in a collateral injury, like if they are operating a vehicle or if they might fall from something.
“A commonsense interpretation of those policies would seem to prohibit incapacitating an individual in a high-speed roadway,” McLaughlin said, but the department’s policy nor Taser’s official training advice specifically mention roadway safety, likely because there is no record of an incident similar to this one occurring before. McLaughlin said he “encourages and expects” discussions about adding roadway safety in the sheriff’s office Taser training moving forward.
Feyen said the department’s training and policy “provides a strong framework for deputies to continually assess the safety priorities and risks in any situation.”
“As first responders dedicated to helping others, we grieve the loss of life in any situation,” Feyen said. “We train our deputies to take decisive action with the information they have available in the moment. Unfortunately, in some cases, this results in unintended consequences. This incident is no exception, and multiple lives have been changed forever. Nobody wanted this outcome.”
Lujan was up-to-date with training on Taser use and has had a total of 26 hours of Taser training since joining the sheriff’s office in 2019, according to McLaughlin.
Who was Brent Thompson?
McLaughlin’s decision letter described Thompson as a “regular fentanyl user” with a criminal history, but his family said he was so much more than that.
“Brent was 28, he had a lifetime ahead of him and he deserved an opportunity to grow and to grow with grace,” an attorney representing the family said.
In an interview with the Coloradoan, Thompson’s parents and siblings described him as smart, witty, creative, caring and kind. His sister, Adrianne Thompson, said “he lit up a room,” and that “you wouldn’t leave an interaction with Brent without a smile on your face.”
“I had his back and he had mine,” his mother, Karen Thompson, said.
His father, David Thompson, said his son was hardworking and enjoyed helping others, especially his family and friends.
“He was a really good, creative young man,” he said.
David Thompson said he saw the body camera footage of his son’s death and feels that McLaughlin’s decision to not charge the deputy shows he “could care less about my son.”
“Accountability needs to be done, and it needs to be done now,” he said.
Thompson’s family called for the sheriff’s office to fire Lujan and release the body camera footage, but they said they had not received a response from the sheriff’s office as of Friday afternoon. An attorney said the family is exploring civil litigation to “pursue accountability.”
“We love and miss him every day,” Adrianne Thompson said. “I think of him all the time.”
This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Larimer deputy who shocked man with Taser on I-25 won’t be charged