Officer Who Shot Alleged Boulder Gunman In Leg Used Justified Force, DA Rules

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Police from numerous jurisdictions responded Monday after a gunman opened fire inside a King Soopers grocery store on Table Mesa Road in Boulder, killing at least 10 people, including a Boulder Police officer. A man is in police custody after the attack.

The Boulder Police officer who entered a crowded grocery store where a gunman had already killed multiple people and shot the man in the right thigh will not be criminally prosecuted.

A decision letter from Boulder District Attorney Michael Dougherty released Thursday justifies the actions of Officer Richard Steidell who, along with almost a dozen other officers, exchanged gunfire with the man who reportedly killed 10 people inside the King Soopers store and in the parking lot.

At the same time, the letter provides the clearest portrait yet of the extraordinary acts by officers from several agencies to put a halt to the massacre and prevent additional deaths.

How the shooting happened

Officer Steidell entered the King Soopers parking lot on March 22 knowing there was an active gunman inside the store who had already either severely injured or killed numerous people, including his colleague, Officer Eric Talley, Dougherty said.

As Steidell and nine other officers from multiple agencies arrived at the scene around 2:38 p.m. -- roughly 10 minutes after the first reported shots -- the gunman was still engaged in a firefight with the first group of responding officers, which included Talley. 

Steidell’s group of officers was inching into the store slowly because they didn’t know where the shooter was inside.

“Officer Steidell personally observed a deceased victim in the parking lot and another deceased victim on the entrance ramp leading to the east doors. Concerned about the safety of the other civilians inside the store, Officer Steidell urged this second entry group to push into the store more quickly,” the letter said.

Within 20 seconds of entering the store, Steidell and the others faced gunfire, which shattered glass and doors above their heads as they crouched for cover. Some officers were injured by shattered glass.

Armed with a handgun, Steidell reportedly dove to the ground. From there, he had a clear line of vision down an aisle to where he could see the gunman holding a long gun, the decision letter said. 

Based on body camera footage, there were no civilians between the officer and the gunman.

Steidell returned fire and the shooter withdrew from the grocery aisle, leaving his view. Steidell remained prone and motionless for about 90 seconds. When the gunman reappeared moments later, he aimed and fired at the officers down the aisle and Steidell again shot at him with his handgun. When the gunman left his line of vision again, Steidell stood up and took cover behind a door.

The Boulder DA's reasoning

“Officer Steidell believed that lesser force was inadequate to stop the shooter from continuing his deadly attack,” the letter said. “Specifically, Officer Steidell believed the shooter had a long-range and accurate weapon, that the shooter possibly wore tactical armor and the shooter had killed both officers and civilians. He also knew the shooter was firing at officers.”

In his analysis, Dougherty didn’t specify exactly how many total rounds were fired by officers or the gunman inside the store, but Steidell fired eight times while lying prone on the ground, the letter said.

The subsequent investigation into what happened found it was Steidell’s shots that struck the gunman in the leg. The shooter put down his weapon and surrendered to police. He was taken to a hospital for treatment and was later discharged to a local jail.

No more civilians were shot or killed after Boulder police officers entered the store.

Dougherty noted no other evidence would be released at this time, given the ongoing investigation and criminal charges filed against the alleged gunman, who remains in jail at this time.