Avon shooting: Colorado State Patrol trooper cleared following an investigation
Lethal force was justified in December's fatal Avon incident, assistant district attorney rules
A Colorado State Patrol trooper will not face criminal charges in the fatal shooting of a Las Vegas man in the parking lot of the Avon Walgreens following an investigation into the Dec. 5 incident.
Alvern Walker, 58, died in the officer-involved shooting. The trooper who pulled the trigger, Joel Juenke, is being exonerated, assistant district attorney Heidi McCollum wrote in a report summarizing the investigation, which Brooks Bennett of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation led.
“After a full and complete review of the information now available relating to the investigation of the officer-involved shooting occurring December 5, 2019, involving Colorado State Patrol Trooper Joel Juenke, this office has determined that Trooper Juenke will not be charged with any criminal offenses arising from his actions on that date,” McCollum wrote in the report dated Feb. 14.
According to the investigation into the incident, Walker was riding in a U-Haul truck pulling a car trailer driven by Vic Harrell on Interstate 70 when Trooper Scott Cunningham pulled the truck over at 8:15 p.m. that night. Harrell pulled off the highway and into the Walgreens parking lot in Avon.
Walker immediately confronted Cunningham, who called for backup.
“Much of what Mr. Walker was saying was nonsensical; making it difficult for Colorado State Patrol to discern Mr. Walker’s needs,” the report said.
That’s when Walker stuck a handgun he was brandishing under his own chin, the barrel pointing upward.
Walker ignored more than 50 commands to put down the gun, McCollum’s report said. Instead, Mr. Walker held the gun to his head, placed it under his chin and waved it about his head, walking very near the store entrance.
The road around Walgreens was closed, and community notifications were sent, directing people to stay away from the area.
Officers on the scene discussed using “less lethal force in an attempt to disarm Mr. Walker,” the report said.
Less than three seconds
One Avon Police Officer fired beanbag rounds; another used a Taser, the report said.
Less than three seconds after the beanbag rounds were fired, Juenke fired the lethal shots from his rifle, the report said.
“Hearing rounds fired, unsure if Mr. Walker had been the one who fired those rounds, knowing that pedestrians/civilians were in the immediate area, knowing that Mr. Walker was steps away from entering the Walgreens store, and knowing that there was an imminent threat to law enforcement on scene as well as civilians in the area, Colorado State Trooper Juenke used lethal force by firing his rifle at Mr. Walker,” the report said.
Officers immediately called for an ambulance and provided medical assistance until the ambulance arrived. Walker was rushed to Vail Health Hospital, where he later died.
Officers also were unable to change their radio channels for unified communications, the report said.
“The sequence of events was rapidly evolving, and the dangerousness of the situation was fast unfolding, to such a degree that responding agencies were unable to most effectively coordinate their communications because doing so would leave them and others vulnerable to the danger presented by Mr. Walker,” the report said.
Following the shooting, investigators learned that Walker had struggled with drug use, possible mental health issues and difficulties associated with transitioning back into society. He was on parole for a 1983 Nevada murder conviction. He had tested positive for methamphetamine in a drug test required as part of his parole, and had been checked into a hospital to be treated for an admitted “meth binge,” the investigation report said.
Harrell, the driver of the U-Haul, was interviewed at the hospital, confirming that he and Walker had used methamphetamine on their drive from Las Vegas to Colorado Springs, the report said.
Harrell told police that Walker said “the clouds were going to eat him,” that he was seeing “aliens and giants” and was going to shoot them. Walker had access to two handguns in the truck, the report said.
Harrell recalled Walker-saying, “N—– with a gun, N—–with a gun, they’re going to shoot me, they’re going to shoot me — I’m gonna kill them.”
The report states that on Cunningham’s audio during the initial traffic stop, Walker can be heard saying, “I’m gonna blow this here mother–cker away.”
McCollum said lethal force was justified.
“Trooper Juenke’s use of lethal force by firing his rifle at Walker, who was erratically waving a loaded handgun, was justified in using such deadly physical force as he reasonably believed it was necessary to defend himself and other officers and civilians from what he reasonably believed to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force by Mr. Walker,” McCollum wrote in the report. “Trooper Juenke’s actions were a justifiable self defense and a justifiable defense of others. In light of this determination, the Office of the District Attorney hereby declines to file any criminal charges in the fatal shooting of Mr. Alvern Walker.”