An FBI investigation has cleared a Bureau of Indian Affairs officer from facing criminal charges in the shooting death of a 34-year-old man in Towaoc, headquarters of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in southwestern Colorado.
BIA Lt. Joseph Keel shot Spencer Posey, a Ute Mountain Ute tribal member, May 22, 2011 after Posey threatened to kill him and charged toward him, brandishing a hatchet, according to the FBI.
The investigation results were in a letter from U.S. Attorney John F. Walsh to Gary Hayes, Ute Mountain Ute tribal chairman. Walsh said the FBI’s investigation was limited to a decision on criminal prosecution and the BIA will conduct a separate administrative review.
Before the shooting occurred, Keel had responded to a request for help from a caller who said a shirtless, intoxicated man was outside the house. When Keel arrived and approached Posey, who was the shirtless man, Posey threw a beer can and rocks at Keel, whose attempt to use pepper spray was ineffective, the FBI said.
Posey ran, carrying the hatchet, Keel followed him, a standoff occurred during which Keel told Posey to drop the hatchet, and then Posey threatened Keel and charged him. Keel fired one shot from his Glock 40-caliber semi-automatic pistol, striking Posey in the abdomen.
BIA Lt. Dale American Horse came to the scene of the shooting and saw Posey handcuffed “in a seated position on the ground,” the report said, noting that Posey “was conscious and speaking” before emergency medical services arrived. Posey was taken to Southwest Memorial Hospital in nearby Cortez, where he died the next day.
The coroner’s report said Posey died from the gunshot wound, but acute alcohol intoxication was also present.
When Keel shot Posey, a father of four, he did so under BIA policy that says “an officer may use deadly force to protect himself or others from what is reasonably believed to be an immediate threat of death or serious physical injury.”
“Lt. Keel was clearly justified under federal law in firing this single shot in self-defense based on a reasonable belief that Posey was about to kill or cause him serious bodily injury by attacking him with the hatchet,” and no criminal charges “can properly be filed against Lt. Keel for his conduct in the incident,” the report concluded.
Hayes had urged at the time of the shooting that it be given the highest priority, including “assessing the sequence of events involving Mr. Posey, and the nature and severity of the alleged criminal conduct that prompted the officer’s use of deadly force.”