$9.5 million settlement for the wrongful death of a Colorado man shot by the police

Denver, CO – Kiowa County has reached a $9.5 million settlement with the family of Zach Gifford, a 39-year-old man who was shot three times in the back by an undersheriff and a rookie deputy in 2020.

The homicide that took place on April 9, 2020, rattled their quiet Eastern Plains community and forced the popular county sheriff to resign. The account of Zach Gifford’s death is quite chilling.

Gifford, a local handyman and known drug user, was a passenger in a friend’s car when they were stopped by Undersheriff Tracy Weisenhorn. The traffic stop was just a pretext for a drug search, as it later emerged Weisenhorn had been stalking the friend’s house in Brandon. Deputy Quinten Stump arrived shortly after at the scene. It was while patting Gifford down that he found a small bag with a white powdery substance in his pocket. The substance was later identified as methamphetamine residue, but it was a very small quantity, hardly enough for a misdemeanor charge.

At this point, Gifford panicked and tried to flee. The police initially grabbed him, but he managed to break loose and started running into an empty field. Weisenhorn shot him in the back even though Stump, who knew Gifford was unarmed, yelled “Let him go!” Oddly enough, Stomp then proceeded to fire two more shots at Gifford, hitting him in the back. 

Instead of trying to help the dying man, Undersheriff Weisenhorn thought it was a good idea to restrain him with her pink, personally engraved handcuffs as he lay bleeding in the dirt. 

Gifford’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit for the murder of their son, who was single and did not have any children. The claim was eventually settled in an out-of-court hearing in Denver. The police tried to use the fact that Gifford had several drug arrests in an effort to bring down the value of the settlement. His father, Larry Gifford, a retired physical education teacher and coach, found it hard to sit through the hearing that discussed the value of his son’s life. “There were a couple of times I needed a seatbelt to make sure I didn’t get up and say something,” Mr. Gifford said. 

Deputy Quinten Stump will also face a criminal trial later this year on two counts of attempted second-degree murder and one count of assault with a deadly weapon. For reasons that have not been disclosed, District Attorney Josh Vogel has not prosecuted Weisenhorn, who first opened fire on Gifford.

How can you sue for wrongful death after a police killing? 

If someone you loved was killed in a violent encounter with the police, you need to talk to an experienced Denver wrongful death lawyer, preferably from a law firm that also handles police brutality claims. You will need a good professional who understands the standards for use of excessive force to prove your loved one was murdered.

In the Gifford case, for instance, the police had no right to use a deadly weapon against an unarmed man who was not threatening anyone. Even if he was fleeing, that was no reason to shoot him. Police officers can use their guns to stop a dangerous criminal, not someone who has a bit of methamphetamine in his pocket. 

If you recently lost someone in a violent encounter with the police, you should contact an experienced civil rights lawyer at the Bryan&Terrill law firm in Denver. Having extensive expertise in wrongful death cases, they can help you file a lawsuit and have those who killed your loved one pay for what they did. 

Contact info:

Bryan & Terrill

333 W. Hampden Ave., #420B

Englewood, CO 80110

(720) 923-2333