A former small-town Colorado police officer was sentenced to 16 years in prison for shooting an unarmed man in the back in 2014.
James Ashby, 32, was working as an officer in Rocky Ford, which has a population of about 4,300 people, when he shot and killed the victim. Ashby was following 27-year-old Jack Jacquez on Oct. 12, 2014, and followed the Colorado man into his mother's home, where he shot Jacquez in the back in the family's kitchen, according to The Denver Post.
Jacquez's mother, Viola, witnessed the shooting.
“It was one of those moments where you’re falling off a cliff,” she told the Post.
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Ashby fired two rounds. The first severed the victim's spine and pierced his heart, and the second missed Jacquez, flying through a room in which Jacquez's pregnant girlfriend was asleep until it lodged in a wall.
In statements after the shooting, Ashby claimed he thought Jacquez was a burglar, but investigators said they couldn't find any reason why Ashby believed Jacquez was committing a crime.
While Ashby claimed Jacquez was behaving strangely and entered the home by a back door, the brother of another police officer -- who was on a ride-along with Ashby -- told investigators that Jacquez entered a side door of the house, where his mother let him in, according to The Associated Press.
Ashby was convicted of second-degree murder in June, marking the first time a police officer in Colorado has been convicted of murder for an on-duty shooting.
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On Oct. 27, a judge sentenced the former officer to 16 years in state prison, followed by five years' probation and a $10,000 fine, the Post reported. The fine is separate from any damages the family may win in a civil lawsuit, which is ongoing.
Jacquez's father, Jack Jacquez Sr., said he felt the sentence wasn't severe enough.
“It took me a couple of hours after the verdict was read (for it to settle in),” Jacquez Sr. told the Post. “I was content at first and then started rethinking the whole situation and realized this man got off easy. If you ever want to commit a murder, go to Rocky Ford.”
Media reports after the shooting said Ashby had a history of complaints against him, and a poor record with a previous law enforcement agency, but police officials in Rocky Ford didn't review those documents before hiring him. Instead, the Post reported, they relied on verbal recommendations from officers who knew Ashby from his first stint as an officer.
The Jacquez family's lawsuit names Ashby, the Rocky Ford Police Department, and its chief of police as defendants, according to the AP, and blames the department for not doing due diligence when hiring Ashby, as well as allowing him to continue working as an officer despite other complaints about him.
Ashby's attorneys, who unsuccessfully argued for an overturned conviction, say they will contest the verdict.
“We do plan to move forward with an appeal,” Carrie Slinkard, one of Ashby’s attorneys, told the Post.