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'The only option left was to shoot': No charges after hours-long standoff involving Baca County deputies

Christopher Lawson was shot and killed following a standoff where he pointed his weapons directly at the undersheriff, prosecutors said.
Credit: KUSA

SPRINGFIELD, Colo. — Prosecutors declined to press charges against officers involved in the fatal shooting of a man in Baca County in April, saying the man pointed a firearm at responding officers and threatened officers' lives.

Just after 5:30 p.m. on April 22, members of the Baca County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) and other law enforcement agencies were called to a residence near County Road 20 and County Road PP on a call of an armed suspect making threats.

The wife of the suspect, later identified as Christopher Lawson, called for help saying that he was knocking on the door with a gun slung over his shoulder, according to a decision letter from the 15th Judicial District Attorney's Office. She reported that Lawson had driven off on an ATV and said she could hear gunshots outside the residence but did "not believe any rounds were striking the house," the DA said.

RELATED: 31-year-old man killed in shooting involving Baca County deputies

BCSO Undersheriff Christopher Griffin instructed the woman to take herself and her five children into the basement and told her to maintain contact with dispatch while officers responded, the letter says.

Lawson himself then called dispatch and said "law enforcement needed to send officers" to his home and they “had better be a better shot than him,” the decision letter says. 

He also told the dispatcher "they just took his wife and kids away from him" and said he was “ready to play,” and "had enough ammo to take on a battalion,” according to the letter.

Throughout the evening, officers attempted to negotiate with Lawson, the letter says. Lawson agreed he would not shoot "if there were only one patrol vehicle and only one officer at the residence", the letter says.

The undersheriff drove to the home with his knees while holding his hands out the driver's side window, to "placate" Lawson "whom he presumed was watching him with a scoped rifle," the letter says.

Griffin was in contact with Lawson over the phone and reported that he continued to say he would "die on his own land" and then heard through his cell phone the "action on a bolt-action rifle close and a gunshot."

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Lawson stated, according to the letter, "I missed" and remarked "he thought he was about 600 yards" away from the undersheriff and he "must be off." 

During the first hour after the family was rescued, Lawson fired his rifle approximately "10-15 times," the letter says.

Throughout the evening, Lawson "continued to shoot his rifle" and repeated his mindset to the undersheriff that "he was going to die or see how many officers he would have to kill before he died," according to the decision letter. He suggested, according to the letter, that once it got darker, he "would get a lot closer" and "could sneak up on officers and stab them."

Shortly before 8:30 p.m., the situation escalated when Lawson approached the perimeter of law enforcement and fired "numerous rounds" from his handgun into the air, the letter says.

Credit: 15th Judicial District Attorney's Office
A photo showing how close Lawson's ATV is to the police perimeter.

He was shot after he "stopped his ATV approximately 10 yards" away from Griffin and "extended his handgun" directly at him, the letter says.

Lawson rotated his gun "covering all five officers" among the main group of patrol vehicles, according to the letter.

When Lawson "steadied his handgun" at Griffin for "2 1/2 seconds" Griffin fired his pistol one time, striking Lawson in the chest, the letter says.

Lawson was later pronounced deceased. No members of law enforcement were injured.

During an interview with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Griffin stated that when Lawson swept his handgun back toward the west, he could see the end of Lawson’s barrel aimed at him, the letter says.

“The only option left was to shoot him before he shot one of us or me," he said in the CBI interview. “I have no doubt in my mind that if I hadn’t shot him right then, he would shoot one of us.”

“Based upon the entire investigation of this incident and the application of Colorado law, I hereby conclude that the legal requirements of the affirmative defenses…are satisfied," said DA Joshua Vogel as part of his findings. "Undersheriff Griffin’s use of deadly physical force was clearly justified, and that Undersheriff Griffin’s conduct did not violate any criminal statute.”

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