Convicted of Murder: Colorado Officer James Ashby
June 28, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Just after 2:30 p.m. on October 12, 2014, Jack Jacquez entered his home in Rocky Ford, Colorado. He was followed by Rocky Ford police officer James Ashby, who raised his gun and fired it into Jacquez’s back, and then left the house after spraying pepper spray onto Jacquez’s back. Jacquez’s mother, Viola, watched the killing of her son.
Rocky Ford is a town of just over 4,000 people. It has nine police officers, total, so it would only have one or two officers on duty at a time. Ashby had been hired five months before the shooting, after having worked at the Walsenburg Police Department for five years prior to that. There was an almost 100-page internal affairs file at Walsenburg, but the Rocky Ford police chief never looked at it. It detailed allegations of profane or derogatory language and sexual harassment on Ashby’s part, but Chief Frank Gallegos relied on the verbal recommendations of Ashby’s supervisors at Walsenburg instead.
Ashby’s conduct apparently did not get any better at Rocky Ford. In less than six months on the job there, he had already received several complaints of excessive force. But to fire him would leave a big hole in their schedule that others would have to step up to fill.
We’ve talked about background investigations before hiring. If you want to hire good people, you do a thorough background investigation. You actually check the personnel and disciplinary records of the person. You talk to their supervisors and their references. You ask them who else could give you information on the applicant. And then you go and talk to those people, the people that the applicant had not listed on his application.
That’s where you start to learn about the applicant, from so-called secondary references. We used to require a minimum of three secondary references. The problem is that it takes a while to get those secondary references and to talk to them, to interview them, to determine what is actually true about the applicant.
Chief Gallegos did not do that. He hired Ashby on the say-so of the Walsenburg supervisors, who may have been looking for a way to just get rid of him. You know, to pass the problem on down the road. It happens, especially since Walsenburg only had nine officers too.
So the Colorado Bureau of Investigation took over the case and the CBI determined that this was likely a murder. So on November 14, the town fired Ashby. He was arrested, and held on a million dollar bond, later reduced to $150,000.
Ashby’s story is that he thought that Jacquez was a burglar who was going to hit him with a baseball bat—so he shot him in the back. Only the mother disputed that. As did Jacquez’s wife, who was four months pregnant. But Ashby stuck with the story that he was in fear of his life.
Yeah, well the CBI didn’t believe that either.
Apparently the jury didn’t either, even when a high-dollar use of force expert was brought in by the defense to explain it. So on June 23, 2016, after having testified on his own behalf, Ashby was convicted by a jury of second degree murder, the first police officer convicted in Colorado in decades. He will be sentenced in September, and faces up to 48 years in prison.
This brings up a couple of things. First, the town police handled it well after the shooting. They screwed up major on the hiring investigation (at least in my opinion), but did well in calling in the CBI to do the investigation. Of course, when you just have nine officers, you really don’t have enough to do the investigation yourself, even if the chief was a non-fictional Jesse Stone.
Second, if you make bad hiring decisions, it will come back and bite you in the rear. This one did.