Three Larimer County Sheriff’s Office deputies have been cleared in the fatal shooting of a Fort Collins man near Crossroads Boulevard and Centerra Parkway in Windsor last year.

Justin Anderson, 51, was shot and killed Nov. 21, 2022, following a vehicle pursuit. The Critical Incident Team investigated the shooting, and Gordon McLaughlin, district attorney for the 8th Judicial District, shared his decision in a letter dated Feb. 9 but released to the media Friday. In that letter, McLaughlin said the deputies involved in the shooting — Justin Napolitano, Jonathon Wedemeyer and Jaime Smith — were justified in their use of force and would not face any criminal charges related to the shooting.

Here’s what we learned from that letter about the circumstances surrounding the shooting, the investigation into it and McLaughlin’s decision. You can find the full letter at www.larimer.gov/da/critical-incident-response-team.

What led up to the Windsor shooting

According to McLaughlin’s letter, the incident leading up to Anderson’s shooting began when Napolitano was doing “proactive patrol” at the Love’s Travel Stop off the Berthoud exit of Interstate 25. The sheriff’s office provides contracted law enforcement services for the town of Berthoud, including the portions of the town that aren’t in Larimer County, such as where the Love’s Travel Stop is located.

McLaughlin noted that Love’s is “a common location for illicit drug transactions” and that Napolitano had made drug-related arrests there before. During his patrol, Napolitano saw a car pull up to an out-of-service gas pump and then move to another pump after the driver saw his patrol vehicle, McLaughlin wrote, adding that the car ultimately left without getting gas and the driver didn’t get out of the car before leaving.

McLaughlin said Anderson arrived as that vehicle was leaving, and he parked the gray Chevrolet truck he was driving at a pump but remained inside the vehicle. McLaughlin explained that Napolitano moved his patrol vehicle to another location and watched the truck with binoculars after Anderson “appeared to notice” the patrol vehicle.

“According to Napolitano, Anderson never purchased gas, appeared to be frustrated, and eventually drove away,” McLaughlin wrote.

Suspecting Anderson was there for a drug transaction, possibly with the car he had seen prior to Anderson’s arrival, Napolitano reportedly followed the truck out of the Love’s parking lot and east on Colorado Highway 56 and onto northbound I-25, where he tried to conduct a traffic stop involving the truck for a nonfunctioning headlight and speeding.

Anderson did not comply, leading to a pursuit that McLaughlin said included “erratic” driving by Anderson and “various evasive maneuvers.”

During that pursuit, McLaughlin said, Napolitano learned Anderson was wanted on multiple active felony warrants and the truck he was driving was connected to another eluding incident.

Wedemeyer and Smith joined the pursuit, which ended after Anderson exited the interstate at the Crossroads Boulevard exit and then onto North Fairgrounds Avenue and Wedemeyer performed a precision immobilization technique, which caused the truck to go over a median. Napolitano and Wedemeyer then used their vehicles to “pinch” the truck in place, with the front of Napolitano’s vehicle against the front of the truck.

After initially pulling up on the driver side of Napolitano’s vehicle, Smith ultimately positioned her vehicle on the passenger side of Napolitano’s, which McLaughlin wrote was “in preparation for a ‘high risk’ stop.”

Why deputies shot at Anderson, according to the investigation

McLaughlin wrote that Napolitano saw Anderson reach for something from behind the passenger seat and then saw him loading a high-capacity magazine into a rifle Napolitano believed “would defeat the soft armor he and the other deputies wore.” He later told investigators “that he was convinced this was a deadly force situation and Anderson was a second away from shooting and killing him or other deputies.”

Napolitano shot at Anderson three times in about four seconds, McLaughlin said. The bullet believed to have killed Anderson came from Napolitano’s gun.

Wedemeyer and Smith fired their weapons when they saw the truck’s tires spinning after Napolitano’s third shot. McLaughlin wrote that Wedemeyer thought Anderson was trying to escape and would run over Napolitano, and Smith believed he was trying to kill Napolitano and thought his life as well as her own were at risk due to the acceleration. Wedemeyer shot at the truck five times in about seconds, and Smith shot at it two or three times.

Additional responding deputies, who took over the scene, found Anderson deceased in the truck with a .22 caliber rifle in his hand.

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What investigators reviewed

All three deputies involved were interviewed for the investigation, and investigators reviewed their body-worn camera footage as well as the following evidence:

  • Rounds recovered from the scene and Anderson’s body

  • The Ruger 10/22 rifle Anderson was holding, with the safety in the “off position,” a round of ammunition in the chamber and 23 rounds in the magazine, which had a 25-round capacity

  • “A likely bullet defect” in the roof of the truck Anderson was driving, which investigators say was “consistent with a round having been fired from inside the vehicle,” though they could not confirm whether that happened during this incident or previously and they did not find a projectile

  • 49 pills suspected to be fentanyl in Anderson’s jacket pocket as well as drug paraphernalia

  • Anderson’s autopsy, which showed three gunshot wounds, and laboratory analysis of the bullet that killed him

McLaughlin says multiple felony charges would have been filed against Anderson

If Anderson had not been killed in the shooting, McLaughlin said multiple felony charges would have been filed against him:

  • Criminal attempt to commit murder in the first degree, a Class 2 felony

  • First-degree assault – threaten peace officer, a Class 3 felony

  • Felony menacing, a Class 5 felony

  • Vehicular eluding, a Class 5 felony

  • Possession of a controlled substance – fentanyl, a Class 4 drug felony

McLaughlin’s comments on the deputies involved

“The totality of the evidence presented through the CIRT investigation reveals that given the actual and perceived circumstances faced by Deputies Justin Napolitano, Jonathon Wedemeyer, and Jamie Smith … each was justified in discharging their firearms and reasonable in their use of deadly force and non-deadly force, respectively. As a result, I find that no charges can, or will, be brought against any of the involved deputies.”

How CIRT works

The 8th Judicial District Critical Incident Response Team, or CIRT, was formed in 2015 in accordance with a new state law requiring a multiagency team to investigate “an incident involving the discharge of a firearm by a peace officer that resulted in injury or death.”

The team is automatically and immediately activated when a police officer is involved in a shooting. The agency that employs the officer or officers involved in a shooting is responsible for alerting the team.

CIRT can also investigate incidents involving officers that result in serious injury or death, including car crashes, as well as incidents in the Larimer County Jail.

Fort Collins Police Services, Loveland Police Department and the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office take turns being the lead agency for police shooting investigations. Each year, the responsibility rotates to a different agency.

Agencies involved in the investigations include: Windsor Police Department, Timnath Police Department, Johnstown Police Department, Estes Park Police Department, Colorado State University Police Department, Colorado State Patrol and the Larimer County District Attorney’s Office.

An agency cannot investigate itself.

After a CIRT investigation is completed, the report is presented to the district attorney, who decides if any criminal charges will be filed related to the incident.

Coloradoan reporter Sady Swanson contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: DA clears Larimer deputies involved in fatal shooting in Windsor

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