Man injured in 2016 police shooting in Frisco sentenced to 8 years in prison
BRECKENRIDGE- Nathaniel Steven Leisz, 36, was sentenced to eight years in prison Monday, June 1, more than three years after threatening police with a knife in December 2016, an incident that nearly resulted in his death.
Leisz appeared in District Court on Monday, when Chief Judge Mark Thompson handed down the minimum sentence of eight years after testimony from both sides that Leisz was making genuine efforts to rehabilitate.
On Dec. 26, 2016, Breckenridge police officers responded to a stolen car near the town’s animal clinic. The suspect, who was later identified as Leisz, was spotted traveling north on Colorado Highway 9 by Summit County Sheriff’s Office deputies, who pursued him into a parking lot near Christy Sports in Frisco. Deputies, along with Frisco Police Department officers and Colorado State Patrol troopers made contact with him while he was still in the vehicle.
Leisz exited the vehicle and began yelling for police to shoot him, in what prosecutors and Leisz’s attorney both characterized as a clear attempt at “suicide by police” from an individual with severe mental heath issues combined with substance use.
Police ordered Leisz to drop the knife multiple times and tried to subdue him with a Taser twice. Leisz was able to cut the Taser wires with his knife, and he continued moving toward officers. Officers also tried to subdue him with a beanbag round but were unsuccessful.
An officer finally fired three shots from his gun at Leisz, hitting him in the hand and ending the standoff. He was taken into custody and given medical treatment for his wound.
Leisz was initially charged with 10 crimes, including felony counts of assault, aggravated motor vehicle theft and menacing. He was later placed on a mental health hold and committed to a state psychiatric facility in Pueblo until he was deemed mentally competent to continue with court proceedings.
In January this year, he accepted a plea agreement in which he pleaded guilty to a felony charge of first-degree assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer and the other charges were dropped. As part of the agreement, both sides also consented to a stipulated sentence of between eight and 16 years in the department of corrections.
Both the defense and prosecution asked Thompson for leniency at the hearing.
“He is a different person than when he first appeared in court in 2017,” District Attorney Bruce Brown said. “And I believe that because of the medications and being drug free, Mr. Leisz is showing the capacity to reform his behavior to that which the community expects. I do feel it is a bit of a roll of the dice at this point … because that will put him back in the community relatively quickly. But then it’s up to Mr. Leisz. If he stays on medication and gets recurring treatment, I think he can fulfill his goals.”
Kevin Jensen, Leisz’s attorney, said the incident helped to set him on the right path.
“Those police officers saved Mr. Leisz’s life,” Jensen said. “Not only by not killing him … but the fact that he was injured and this case arose. It was really the bottom of the bottom that Mr. Leisz could get. I firmly believe that if it wasn’t for these past two or three years of in-custody medication and observation, Mr. Leisz may have been just setting himself up for some other tragedy. I think that has been averted now.”
The court also heard from one of the troopers involved in the incident along with Leisz’s mother and former attorney. Leisz chose to speak for himself, offering an apology for his actions and promising to rehabilitate.
“I cannot stress enough how remorseful I am,” Leisz said. “… I can’t imagine the stress that must have put on (the police officers), and I’m truly sorry. I’m sorry for trying to end my life altogether. I was in a dark place, off my meds and high on meth. With every step I took, I wanted to be dead. I never want to be there again. …
“I’m thankful I didn’t cause anyone any physical harm. I’m thankful for my year at Pueblo for giving me the tools I need to keep my sobriety and sanity, and the right combination of meds to help do that. … I’m ready to start putting the pieces back together.”
Thompson ultimately decided to sentence Leisz to eight years in prison. He’ll receive credit served for the almost 3 1/2 years he’s spent in custody, and he will have a three-year parole period following his release.
“This is someone who’s been incarcerated for essentially three years who could have taken a lot of directions,” Thompson said. “What I see is a person who has embraced his treatment and his time he’s been kept out of the community. … Mr. Leisz does appear to understand the nature of his lifetime commitment to sobriety and mental health treatment, and he appears to have made substantial progress.”