After deliberating for several hours, a jury found Shane French guilty of felony menacing of a peace officer, but deadlocked on the charge of first-degree felony assault of a peace officer.
French went to trial on both counts last week. The charges filed by the 22nd Judicial District Attorney involved an incident March 5 in which he was tased twice at his home by his parole officer.
The jury could not reach a unanimous decision on the first-degree assault charge, District Court Judge Todd Plewe declared a mistrial for the charge of first-degree assault because jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict. Assistant District Attorney Matt Margeson dismissed the charge and does not plan to retry it.
Jurors delivered a guilty verdict for the Class 5 felony menacing charge, and Plewe scheduled sentencing for April 9. Sentencing for Class 5 felony menacing ranges from 1 to 3 years in prison, and/or a fine of $1,000 to $100,000.
“We secured a felony conviction. That was our intention,” Margeson told The Journal after the verdict. “We accomplished our goal and let law enforcement know that we have their backs.”
Felony menacing is knowingly attempting to place someone in fear of imminent bodily injury, he said.
Regarding the hung jury on the assault charge, juror Richard Markum said the evidence failed to convince the jury that French was guilty.
“Some people thought one way, some people the other way, but there was not enough to change the other person’s mind,” Markum said. “My perspective was that there was not enough evidence to convict on the assault charge. It was a very good group. Everyone participated.”
French, of Cortez, had pleaded not guilty to both charges. The three-day trial went to the jury for deliberation Friday afternoon, and a verdict was delivered about 11:15 a.m. Monday.
Margeson prosecuted the case, and public defense attorneys Jonathan Jourdane and Kathryn Polonsky represented French. Defense attorneys declined to comment about the verdict.
The charges against French resulted from an incident March 5 at his home on Texas Street in Cortez.
According to court reports, French’s parole officer, Ryan Jenkins, went to French’s home to deliver parole paperwork French had requested. As a state parole officer, Jenkins met requirements for a Peace Officer Standards and Training certification.
When he met French at his bedroom door, Jenkins reported French walked toward him holding a weighted sock at shoulder height and yelling for him to get out.
Jenkins testified he identified himself and pulled out his Taser because he feared bodily harm. While walking backward down a hall, he tased French after he did not comply with his orders to drop the sock. French fell to the floor and dropped the object, reports state.
Jenkins called 911, then tased French again as he tried to retrieve the weighted sock, according to court records. As a POST-certified parole officer, Jenkins is authorized to deploy a Taser.
Prosecution argued there was sufficient evidence to seek a conviction against French for assault and menacing.
In closing arguments, Margeson stated: “Mr. French intended to cause serious bodily injury to officer Jenkins. Mr. French knew or reasonably should have known that Ryan Jenkins was a peace officer performing his duties. He came out of the room shouting at officer Jenkins, with a knotted up sock with a heavy object in it” held at shoulder’s height.”
The defense argued French was innocent of the charges because it was plausible and reasonable he acted out of fear and self-defense.
In closing arguments Polonsky stated: “Shane’s action, his conduct in that hallway that afternoon, with what he knew in that time and in that place, were reasonable, despite the fact he turned out to be wrong about the threat. Shane never intended to cause serious bodily injury to anyone. First-degree assault did not happen.”
Polonsky claimed French’s actions were reasonable because he had just woken up, the hallway was dark, Jenkins’ arrival was unannounced, and that French was reacting to a potential unidentified trespasser in his home.
Margeson argued Jenkins had a right to be there as a parole officer, he had identified himself to French at the bedroom door, and French knew Jenkins was his parole officer.
Polonsky noted that French never touched Jenkins and did not attempt to strike him. The defense suggested that Jenkins did not have to go to the bedroom because he’d already left the paperwork for French in the living room.
Margeson said French cannot claim self-defense because he initiated the alleged threat and did not back down.
According to court testimony, Jenkins was delivering paperwork that French had requested, and French’s father let Jenkins into the home, and either French’s dad or Jenkins knocked on the bedroom door.
Trial witnesses included Jenkins and two Cortez police officers who responded to French’s home after Jenkins’ 911 call. French chose to not testify.
Public defenders also were critical of how evidence was handled. The weighted sock was taken by Jenkins and logged into inventory at the public defender’s office in Durango. It was later delivered to the Cortez Police Department, but defense attorneys said they should have collected it initially.
During the March 5 incident, French was on parole after being convicted of escaping from Montezuma County District Court in July 2017. Under parole agreements signed by French, parole officers may enter a home to monitor a parolee and they are not required to provide advanced notice.
French, a qualified individual with a disability, was part of a high-profile tasing case at the same residence in 2014. He was repeatedly tased and charged with assault and resisting arrest. He pleaded not guilty, and a jury cleared him of all charges.
In 2016, the French family filed a lawsuit against the Cortez Police Department alleging police entered the residence illegally and repeatedly tased French while he was in handcuffs.
In July, the city of Cortez agreed to pay $200,000 to the French family to settle the lawsuit against Cortez officers over the arrest. The city did not admit to any wrongdoing as part of the settlement.