A Colorado law supposed to make some suspects give up their guns is not working
Author: Katie Wilcox, Chris Vanderveen
Published: 10:58 AM MDT May 15, 2018
Updated: 10:52 PM MDT May 16, 2018
INVESTIGATIONS 5 Articles

Five years after Colorado legislators heralded a new gun law designed to protect victims of domestic violence, a three-month investigation by 9Wants to Know has discovered a statewide system of lax -- if not downright nonexistent -- enforcement where not even the state’s court system knows just how many people are willfully ignoring judicial orders.

The consequences have proven tragic time and time again.

Defendants under court order not to possess guns have killed spouses, girlfriends, and strangers with weapons a judge had ordered them to relinquish.

Others have directly put police officers’ lives at risk.

The current environment, called “unacceptable” by one of the bill’s chief architects, has allowed an untold number of people to continue to terrorize victims while they flaunt a system intended to save lives.

A judge can order people under certain protection orders to relinquish their weapons under a Colorado law.
A judge can order people under certain protection orders to relinquish their weapons under a Colorado law.
KUSA

Among the findings of the 9Wants to Know investigation “Protection [DIS]Order:"

- 9Wants to Know learned Colorado judges have issued 69,054 gun relinquishment orders since 2013 according to an open records request with the Colorado Judicial Branch.

- Of those 69,054 orders, prosecutors have only charged 165 people with illegal gun possession through April 2018 – a number that represents around 0.02 percent of all orders issued.

- While each order requires defendants to file proof of gun relinquishment with the court, the Colorado Judicial Branch acknowledges it has no way of tracking how many people have done so. “There is not a way to track compliance,” 9Wants to Know was told.

- In a random sampling of at least a dozen high-profile, violent crimes, suspects had – or had recently been under – a mandatory protection order requiring them to relinquish all guns and ammunition.

- Early supporters of the legislation acknowledge the law isn’t working as intended.

EXPLORE

A Colorado law supposed to make some suspects give up their guns is not working

INVESTIGATIONS
Chapter 1

“Under an order not to have guns, man takes people hostage with gun”

Michael Kocher, a former Marine reservist who took a hostage using a gun he wasn't supposed to have, was fatally shot by police after an hours-long standoff.
Michael Kocher, a former Marine reservist who took a hostage using a gun he wasn't supposed to have, was fatally shot by police after an hours-long standoff.
KUSA

KUSA — Englewood Police could sense the man inside the home in the 2800 block of South Bannock Street was growing more desperate by the minute.

They knew he had a gun, and they suspected there were as many as four others inside.

For two hours on March 3, 2017, officers negotiated with Michael Kocher, a former Marine reservist with a criminal past.

RELATED | Suspect shot and killed by police in Englewood standoff

Police radio logs, reviewed by 9Wants to Know, suggest a diminishing list of good options for

the SWAT team assembled outside.

“He says if we use gas, he will shoot,” said one officer.

“One of the persons in the house is confident he won’t go out without a fight,” said another.

Hours earlier, Kocher had posted an ominous message on his Facebook page.

“When they come for me I’ll be sitting at my desk with a gun in my hand and a bullet proof vest singing my my my how does the time fly when you know you’re gonna die by the end of the night,” the post said.

Officers surrounding the house could hear Kocher yelling. He was threatening to kill at least one person inside.

“He says he can see the team members. He’s getting really fired up,” an officer said on the radio.

A few minutes later, as Kocher stood near a staircase on the lower level of the home, an officer reported seeing a hostage next to Kocher “abruptly move to his left,” according to Arapahoe County prosecutors.

The officer then “fired a single shot from his AR-15 striking Kocher in the head, killing him,” according to investigators.

Court records reviewed by 9Wants to Know show six months prior, a judge had ordered Kocher to relinquish all guns and ammunition in his possession.

Englewood Police fatally shot Michael Kocher after an hours-long standoff in Englewood. A judge had ordered that he relinquish his guns. He didn't.
Englewood Police fatally shot Michael Kocher after an hours-long standoff in Englewood. A judge had ordered that he relinquish his guns. He didn't.
KUSA

The order, handed down by a Broomfield judge Sept. 2, 2016, came as a result of an earlier assault case.

The mandatory protection order, obtained by 9Wants to Know, told Kocher he needed to “relinquish, for the duration of the order, any firearm or ammunition in your immediate possession or control.”

It also said he needed to “file proof of the relinquishment with the court, within 3 business days of the relinquishment as required by statute.”

Nothing in Kocher’s court file suggests he did so, and there’s no indication anyone even bothered to follow up on his lack of response.

In Colorado, he’s hardly the only one to willfully ignore that court order.

INTERACTIVE | Violent crime suspects who didn't relinquish their guns

Chapter 2

“If he still has a gun, I’m in danger”

Ruth Glenn is the current CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Ruth Glenn is the current CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
KUSA

KUSA — Ruth Glenn’s words during a March 4, 2013 hearing in front of the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee seemed to seal the deal.

“Twenty years ago, I was left for dead after being shot by my husband who was under a protection order,” she told the committee.

LISTEN | Audio of Ruth Glenn's testimony

At the time, legislators were considering Senate Bill 13-197, a piece of legislation aimed directly at protecting victims of domestic violence.

SB 13-197 allowed judges to issue protection orders in certain criminal cases involving allegations of domestic violence. The orders would demand, at least for the duration of the order, the defendants relinquish their firearms and ammunition.

It would also require them to file proof of such relinquishment with the court.

Testimony at the Colorado State Capitol back in 2013 forced certain people under protection orders for domestic violence to relinquish their guns.
Testimony at the Colorado State Capitol back in 2013 forced certain people under protection orders for domestic violence to relinquish their guns.
KUSA

The defendant under the order could either sell their guns and ammunition, or transfer them to someone else. A limited number of police departments agreed to take in guns. Storage units popped up in gun stores and ranges. Pawn shops, friends and relatives could also be considered viable options to hold guns during the term of relinquishment.

Glenn, the current CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the premise behind the bill was simple: Get guns out of the hands of people in particularly volatile situations.

“I often equate it to being a prisoner of war,” Glenn told 9Wants to Know. “If he still has that gun, then I’m still in danger.”

Colorado legislators passed SB-197 in 2013. It was aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of people accused of domestic violence.
Colorado legislators passed SB-197 in 2013. It was aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of people accused of domestic violence.
KUSA

During a year in which other Democratic pieces of gun legislation received more attention, Colorado legislators – on a party-line vote – passed SB 13-197 with the hopes of protecting people like Glenn.

She felt good about its passage.

After 9Wants to Know told her of the results of this investigation, she said she doesn’t necessarily feel good about the law five years later, however.

“I think it has multiple flaws,” she said.

Chapter 3

“I hate him for taking my mom"

Michael Dean King shot Jennifer Lembke with a gun that he had been ordered to relinquish.
Michael Dean King shot Jennifer Lembke with a gun that he had been ordered to relinquish.

KUSA — Until 9Wants to Know contacted her, Logan Lembke had never been told that the man who killed her mother in 2014 had been under a judge’s gun relinquishment order at the time.

A judge in Gunnison issued the order two days prior to the death of Jennifer Lembke.

“Yeah, I did not know that,” said Logan Lembke. “I was just told that he killed my mom and then killed himself.”

The order issued to Michael Dean King is one of 69,054 gun relinquishment orders issued since the passage of SB 13-197.

INTERACTIVE | 2013 - 2017 gun relinquishment orders

King’s court file indicates zero evidence that he ever intended to comply with the order. Crime scene photos show the gun he used to kill Jennifer Lembke next to his body.

Gunnison police officers also found boxes of ammunition and other guns inside the home on Tincup Lane.

Logan Lembke found out that her mother had been shot and killed while she was at work. The man who murdered her had been ordered to relinquish his weapons just two days before.
Logan Lembke found out that her mother had been shot and killed while she was at work. The man who murdered her had been ordered to relinquish his weapons just two days before.
KUSA

“I don’t like thinking about [King]. I don’t like saying his name,” said Logan Lembke. “All I think of is ‘coward,’ and that I hate him for taking my mom.”

“I still feel like someone should be held accountable for the fact that he had a gun and wasn’t supposed to,” she added.

Logan Lembke isn’t alone in feeling that sentiment.

Greg Lorbiecki held his wife hostage inside the couple's home just south of Colorado Springs ... just months before, a judge had ordered that he give up his firearms.
Greg Lorbiecki held his wife hostage inside the couple's home just south of Colorado Springs ... just months before, a judge had ordered that he give up his firearms.
KUSA

In 2016, just months after a judge ordered him not to possess any firearms or ammunition, Greg Lorbiecki held his wife hostage inside the couple’s home just south of Colorado Springs.

Four hours into a standoff, with SWAT officers outside, Lorbiecki fired a round into Karyn

Lorbiecki’s head. He surrendered almost immediately and is currently serving a life sentence in prison.

El Paso County Sheriff’s investigators found multiple other guns and boxes of ammunition inside the Lorbiecki home.

This is Karyn Lorbiecki. Months after her husband was ordered to relinquish his weapons, he fired a round into her head. He is currently serving a life sentence.
This is Karyn Lorbiecki. Months after her husband was ordered to relinquish his weapons, he fired a round into her head. He is currently serving a life sentence.

“We used to say, something is going to happen with all of those guns,” said Karyn’s sister-in-law Angie Ragsdale. “He shouldn’t have been allowed to have those guns.”

Eight months prior to the murder, prosecutors charged Greg Lorbiecki with criminal mischief after he threw a pair of wrenches at his wife’s car, according to court documents.

The mandatory protection order obtained by 9Wants to Know ordered Lorbiecki to relinquish all guns and ammunition within 48 hours and to file proof of such relinquishment.

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann, a Democrat and past state representative, was a primary sponsor of SB 13-197.
Denver District Attorney Beth McCann, a Democrat and past state representative, was a primary sponsor of SB 13-197.
KUSA

If he did so, his court file never indicates it.

“Nobody checked, so yeah, he was able to keep the guns,” Ragsdale said.

Based upon his court file, it also appears no one checked on Haywood Miller after El Paso County prosecutors charged him with assault in 2016. A judge order him to relinquish any firearms in August.

The case was dismissed in late September, but it doesn’t appear as if Miller ever filed a response with the court, as required by law.

In November of 2016, he and another man killed three people in Colorado Springs.

Under a Colorado law, judges can order that domestic violence suspects with certain protection orders relinquish their firearms.
Under a Colorado law, judges can order that domestic violence suspects with certain protection orders relinquish their firearms.
KUSA

One of them was Ron Loftis’ daughter, Victoria.

“I miss her every day,” he told 9Wants to Know as he sat next to her grave at Evergreen Cemetery.

He visits this spot nearly every day.

As for Miller, Ron Loftis said he simply wishes someone would’ve tried to enforce the law.

“My daughter was shot 22 times,” he said.

The 9Wants to Know investigation also discovered:

- Westminster Police shot and killed Brett Rodriquez on July 4, 2017, after prosecutors say he showed a handgun during an arrest attempt. Rodriquez was under a 2016 gun relinquishment order from Adams County at the time.

- Robert Lamont, according to Colorado Springs Police, fired shots from an SUV at another vehicle in March. He was under a relinquishment order stemming from a 2017 domestic violence case.

- Bruce Allee was under a gun relinquishment order signed in January 2018 when he shot and carjacked a Westminster man in April. Allee was ultimately shot and killed by U.S. Marshals later the same day.

- Gustavo Marquez pleaded guilty earlier this year to taking part in what the Colorado Springs Gazette called “the gang-related executions of two Coronado High School students.” Early last year and before the muders, a judge had ordered him to give up his guns.

- William Camacho Jr. has been charged with the April murder of 21-year old Brandie Preciado in Colorado Springs. Last May, a judge in El Paso County ordered him to not have any guns after a harassment case.

“There’s an order of relinquishment for a reason. So why are we not doing more to ensure that part of the law is followed?” asked Ruth Glenn.

As it turns out, the answer to that question is somewhat complicated.

Some of the text on judge orders requiring that some people under investigation for domestic violence relinquish their firearms.
Some of the text on judge orders requiring that some people under investigation for domestic violence relinquish their firearms.
KUSA
Chapter 4

"Unacceptable"

The exterior of the Colorado State Capitol building.
The exterior of the Colorado State Capitol building.
KUSA

KUSA — While thousands of gun relinquishment orders are issued every year, few people under the orders are ever charged with violating them.

From 2013 to April 2018, Colorado judges have issued 69,054 gun relinquishment orders. 9Wants to Know learned through an open records request with the state court system that prosecutors have charged 165 people with violating new state gun law.

It comes out to a little less than three dozen cases a year.

“It’s disappointing. It’s really not acceptable. It’s part of our law and we ought to be enforcing it,” said Denver District Attorney Beth McCann.

These are some of the man who have commited violent crimes after they were ordered to give away their guns.
These are some of the man who have commited violent crimes after they were ordered to give away their guns.
KUSA

McCann, a Democrat and past state representative, was a primary sponsor of SB 13-197.

“We expected more enforcement,” she said.

More than half of the cases prosecuted for violating the protection order were eventually dismissed. Since 2013, only 30 people have ever been fined, given probation or sent to jail for violating the law by failing to relinquish guns.

“I think it’s unacceptable that it’s not being enforced,” McCann said.

One of the problems, according to prosecutors, is a constitutional one. Americans have a Fifth Amendment right not to self-incriminate. Proponents of the law have objected that defendants ordered to file a response to the court of gun relinquishment, for example, could potentially self-incriminate by informing the court they illegally possessed guns.

McCann acknowledged the Fifth Amendment is at play here. She said she’s looking for guidance as to how to best proceed there.

“We are working on a mechanism that the [defendant] does not have to make a statement in court against his or her interests,” she said.

Jess Redman, an assistant district attorney in Adams County, said enforcement has proven tricky.

“It becomes challenging,” he said. “If a defendant states that they don’t have a weapon, I’m left with how do I prove that they do.”

“Ultimately we’re left with the information that we may not be able to charge them,” he said.

SB 13-197 was aimed at getting guns out of the hands of domestic violence suspects.
SB 13-197 was aimed at getting guns out of the hands of domestic violence suspects.
KUSA

According to the results of the 9Wants to Know investigation, no one appears to be checking to see if a defendant actually files proof of relinquishment with the court. In addition, no one appears to be counting the number of times someone ignores the order.

9Wants to Know couldn’t find one instance within the dozen high-profile cases analyzed where a defendant filed a response with the courts.

The Colorado Judicial Branch doesn’t know of one either, because it’s not counting.

“We are able to determine that the court ordered the firearm relinquished but there is not a way to track the compliance affidavit electronically,” read a statement from a spokesperson.

9Wants to Know contacted individual courts in the Denver area. Not one said it was counting compliance either.

“I’m appalled,” said early SB13-197 supporter Ruth Glenn.

Those who work with victims of domestic violence say the current system places too much trust in someone who has good reason to lie.

“So, perpetrators can lie. They have been known to do that,” said DoraLee Larson with the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council. “To trust someone who is in that capacity in the first place is curious to me to say the least.”

“There are clearly some holes in the law,” she added.

Chapter 5

“We typically don’t get involved”

KUSA — More than enforcement, the law itself present challenges to defendants who are trying to follow it. For example, the law allows defendants to temporarily place their guns with local law enforcement agencies - but does not require agencies to take the weapons.

9Wants to Know has found few willing to do so.

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, for example, forbids taking in weapons for safekeeping in its own policy.

“Deputies will not submit firearms for safekeeping as a result of a protective order,” its rules state.

A spokesperson for the Douglas County Sheriff's Office said, “We typically don’t get involved.”

The Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office said the chances of it taking any weapons were “unlikely,” and would depend on the court order.

The Larimer County Sheriff's Office also said they would most likely not accept guns for safekeeping for defendants under a protection order and consider it a storage issue.

The Colorado Springs police also provided a statement saying that it does not take part in the process. "The Colorado Springs Police Department does not make arrangements or offer the service for storage of firearms and/or ammunition with parties placed under this order," a police spokesperson said in an email.

The Denver Police Department does store guns, and since 2013, it has stored 83 guns for people under the orders.

Aurora has accepted only 14, according to internal records.

Defendants can also ask a friend or family member to take in their guns, but the law requires that person to undergo a background check, something the Colorado Bureau of Investigation says on its own website it will not do for an individual, private party under the circumstances.

Instead, the defendant would have to take their weapons to licensed gun store and have that gun store owner or other federal firearm licensee run a background check for a family member or friend to whom they want to relinquish weapons. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation cannot distinguish between private gun sales and court-ordered gun relinquishments with their current data tracking system.

This leaves prosecutors, victims and supporters of the law feeling frustrated and angry that this law is not, apparently, doing what it was intended.

“It certainly doesn’t take away guns,” Redman said. “It puts the responsibility on gun owner to relinquish -- I don’t know that we could have a law that takes away firearms.”