Accidental shooting case still pending in DA’s Office |

Accidental shooting case still pending in DA’s Office

Routt County Sheriff's Office officials investigate at a home in the Stagecoach area where a Steamboat Springs police officer's 3-year-old son was killed after a gun accidentally went off.
Matt Stensland

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from Assistant District Attorney Matt Karzen.

Three-year-old Gavin Stiles shot himself with his father’s police-department-issued handgun, according to a final autopsy report released this week by Routt Coroner Rob Ryg.

The incident occurred July 14 at a home owned by Michael and Joni Stiles in the Stagecoach area. Michael Stiles is a Steamboat Springs Police Department officer, who requested six months of unpaid leave following the incident.

The parents were home at the time of the accidental shooting, but other details related to the incident have not been released.

According to the autopsy report, Gavin was shot in the chest. The bullet caused a hemorrhage in Gavin’s lung and exited his shoulder. His death was ruled accidental.

The shooting was investigated by the Routt County Sheriff’s Office and Colorado Bureau of Investigations.

Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins said Thursday that his office’s investigation is finalized and has been turned over to the District Attorney’s Office, which will decide whether to file criminal charges.

Wiggins said he was been instructed by the District Attorney’s Office not to discuss the case.

“It’s frustrating to me,” Wiggins said. “I would much rather be more transparent. I think there are a lot of people that want to know.”

Wiggins said the silence and secrecy surrounding the case “just looks bad.”

Wiggins said he has asked District Attorney Brett Barkey to issue a statement.

“Hopefully in the next 10 to 12 days — hopefully there will be some closure,” Wiggins said.

Assistant District Attorney Matt Karzen responded to Wiggins’ comments on Friday.

“The sheriff knows exactly where we are in the decision making process, what that process involves, and the timeline for a decision,” Karzen said. “He also knows, or should know, that until that decision is made, public dissemination of case details would be unprofessional, and while politicians understandably want to give their constituents what they want, public service professionals involved in sensitive life and death legal matters sometimes don’t have that luxury.”

Barkey has not indicated whether his office would pursue charges. In two other accidental shooting deaths this year in Colorado involving children, criminal charges were filed.

Contacted Tuesday, Barkey said in an email that the case was pending.

He did not respond to a question asking whether he has asked a district attorney from a different district to review the case.

To Wiggins, that would make sense, since it was an incident involving a local police officer.

“That would have been clear-cut and easy — to send it to a different prosecutor,” Wiggins said.

Steamboat Police Chief Cory Christensen said he has intentionally stayed out of the criminal investigation process, but the police department started an administrative review after the event occurred.

Christensen said the review is intended to determine if Stiles violated any of the police department’s policies or procedures. It is not a criminal investigation.

Christensen said the review has been paused, because the department is waiting for Barkey’s decision on whether to pursue charges.

“I’ll respect the decision of the DA’s Office, and we’ll move on,” Christensen said.

Any decision on discipline resulting from the administrative review likely would not be made public.

The police department’s policy manual specifically states how officers should store their firearms at home. It states: “Members shall ensure that all firearms and ammunition are locked and secured while in their homes, vehicles or any other area under their control, and in a manner that will keep them inaccessible to children and others who should not have access.”

Christensen said he has reiterated that policy to the rest of the officers in the department.

“The message goes beyond any individual,” Christensen said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

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