The Adams County sheriff’s deputy who killed 41-year-old Harmony Wolfgram with a single shot to the head in January was justified in using deadly force and will not face criminal charges, according to an investigatory report on the incident released Wednesday.
The 17th Judicial District Critical Incident Response Team concluded that Deputy Cliff Brooks had a reasonable belief that Wolfgram posed a threat to officers and to a woman, identified in the report simply as M.S., who Wolfgram appeared to be holding hostage with what officers believed was a gun pressed to her back.
It turned out Wolfgram didn’t have a gun but rather a butane lighter in her hand as both women emerged from a camping trailer they had taken refuge in following a police chase in the early morning hours of Jan. 26 that started in Denver’s northern suburbs and ended on a 5-acre property in Watkins.
“The moment the camper door opened, the posture of Ms. Wolfgram and M.S. presented the appearance of a hostage situation,” the report states. “M.S. immediately stated that Ms. Wolfgram had a gun and was trying to kill her.”
Investigators said that even though it was ultimately determined that Wolfgram had no gun, “in the rapidly-evolving context of this perceived hostage situation, the involved officers did not have the benefit of this thorough and completed investigation.”
The report stated that Brooks gave “repeated opportunities” to the women to “resolve the situation without violence” but that Wolfgram ignored all commands.
A second Adams County deputy, Gilbert Abdulla, who released a dog on the women in an attempt to resolve the situation without deadly force, was also cleared in the incident. The dog actually bit M.S. instead of Wolfgram, the report stated.
In an interview with police the following day, M.S. said Wolfgram intended to use her as a hostage in order to escape from police.
“According to M.S., when she opened the door, Ms. Wolfgram put something behind her back and said, ‘tell them that you have a gun behind your back,’” the report states. “M.S. felt something pushed against her back. Ms. Wolfgram told her it was a gun and M.S. believed it was a gun.”
Several of the officers said they heard M.S. shout that Wolfgram had a gun and intended to shoot her, according to the report.
Inside the camper, police found a bag with drug paraphernalia and “a loaded syringe containing a brown liquid.” A toxicology test found heroin, methamphetamine and fentanyl in Wolfgram’s system.
The vehicle the women were in had been reported stolen though M.S. later told police she was borrowing it from her boyfriend.
Stephen Rivale, Wolfgram’s brother, spoke to The Denver Post late Wednesday and said the critical incident response team report “doesn’t match up to what they initially said.”
“I do not feel that the report is accurate at all,” he said. “If my sister was on the drugs they say she was on, there was no way she was going to come up with an elaborate plan to kidnap someone.”
Rivale was critical of police in February for stating that “deputies were alerted that the suspect had a gun” but not providing clarification that in fact she didn’t. Rivale believes “1,000%” that the police used excessive force in the situation.
“My sister is no longer here and she has two kids that I am now raising,” he said.
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