Detectives recount response to STEM School shooting

When the first law enforcement officers burst through the locked door of Classroom 107 during the STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting in May 2019, they saw a purple-haired Devon Erickson on the ground, with at least one wounded student lying on top of him.

Douglas County sheriff’s Detective Shaun Bell rushed up to Erickson and put his AR-15 rifle against the teenager’s head. The detective cursed.

The exact words he said are disputed. Bell testified in court Wednesday that he said something along the lines of, “You’re (expletive) lucky to be alive.”

Erickson’s attorneys claimed Bell shouted, “I should (expletive) kill you now, you piece of (expletive).”

Bell testified Wednesday that he did not remember making that threat. He said he put his weapon against Erickson’s forehead or temple because he didn’t want to hit anyone else if he was forced to fire.

“Due to how close all the other innocent kids were, if I had to take a shot I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss,” he testified.

Bell was one of three Douglas County sheriff’s detectives who recounted what happened as officers responded to the May 7, 2019, school shooting during a motions hearing before 18th Judicial District Judge Theresa Slade on Wednesday. Prosecutors and defense attorneys debated whether statements Erickson made to detectives after the shooting should be allowed as evidence in the case.

The detectives asked Erickson some questions at the scene without first warning him about his right to remain silent and have an attorney present. Defense attorneys argued Erickson’s answers to those initial questions should be thrown out, and suggested that even after Erickson was read his rights and agreed to talk to detectives without an attorney present, he was in such a state of mind — high on cocaine, scared of police — that he was actually unable to waive that right and so he gave coerced statements.

Prosecutors argued that detectives initially asked lawful questions that were directly related to public safety — questions like, “Is there another shooter?” — and that Erickson legally and knowingly waived his rights when he later agreed to speak with detectives. In a recorded interrogation, Erickson answered “Yes” several times when asked if he understood his rights and was waiving them, according to testimony Wednesday.

Slade did not rule on the motion Wednesday but said she would later issue a written ruling.

The in-person hearing, which was streamed online in an often inaudible broadcast, also addressed a variety of other motions as the case against Erickson continues to head toward trial. The trial was set for Feb. 1 amid concerns about the novel coronavirus. It is expected to last for at least five weeks.

District Attorney George Brauchler said he’d come to court prepared to argue that the trial should be scheduled before the end of the year. Brauchler is term-limited and will be replaced by either Democrat Amy Padden or Republican John Kellner in January. He said Wednesday he’s been the lead prosecutor on the case since it began and is invested in “trying to get this done.”

But, Brauchler told the judge, his office has learned that the victims and their families are more interested in being able to attend the trial in person than seeing it happen immediately. In-person attendance in court is currently limited due to coronavirus restrictions.

“If setting this off gives them the opportunity to be here in person in the courtroom… that has to be given a whole lot of respect,” he said.

Erickson, 20, is charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo, who was killed as he charged at the shooters during the attack. Erickson’s co-defendant, Alec McKinney, 17, pleaded guilty to murder earlier this year and was sentenced to life in prison plus 38 years with the possibility of parole.

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