Lawrence officer says he shot resident in self-defense; resident to stand trial on aggravated assault charge
The Lawrence police officer who shot a 24-year-old man in June did so because he feared for his life, the officer testified Friday.
The testimony came during the preliminary hearing in Douglas County District Court for Zachary James Ortiz, who was ordered to stand trial Friday on one count of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer.
The officer, Skyler Richardson, testified that Ortiz leveled a shotgun at him during the encounter at Ortiz’s home, prompting Richardson to shoot in response.
Richardson, 23, had been on the job just three months before responding to a call of gunshots fired near the intersection of Kasold Drive and Harvard Road around 12:30 a.m. June 23, Richardson testified.
Upon his arrival, Richardson went to the home of the individual — not named — who made the report and asked from where the person had heard the shots coming, Richardson said. The caller then pointed to the south, Richardson said, but did not give an exact address.
Richardson said he then began to patrol the area to the south of the home when he saw a man, later identified as Ed Ortiz, Zachary Ortiz’s father, standing in front of his home at 1103 Kasold Drive.
“I noticed him in the driveway and asked if he heard any gunshots,” Richardson said. “He said no”
Richardson then asked if there was anyone else inside the home and Ed Ortiz said his son was and that his son was drunk, Richardson said.
The previous day was Zachary Ortiz’s birthday and father and son had been out celebrating at a bar, Ed Ortiz told the Journal-World in July.
Richardson said he then asked to speak with Zachary Ortiz to “make sure he’s OK.” Ed Ortiz then led the officer into his garage, Richardson said.
“(Ed Ortiz) stepped through the door and asked ‘what’s going on?'” Richardson said. “I followed him inside and saw Zach with some sort of blunt object that I believed was a baseball bat over his shoulder.”
Richardson said he never asked to come inside, nor did Ed Ortiz ask him to enter the home. Upon cross-examination by Sarah Swain, Zachary Ortiz’s attorney, Richardson said he did not have probable cause or reasonable suspicion that any crime had occurred inside the home at that time.
Richardson said when he saw Zachary Ortiz with the object, he announced himself as a police officer and that Zachary Ortiz could be shot or Tased if he did not drop the object. Zachary Ortiz then dropped the object and ran upstairs to his bedroom, Richardson said.
Ed Ortiz followed after Zachary Ortiz with Richardson close behind, Richardson said. From the landing of the stairs, Richardson said he could see Zachary Ortiz pointing a shotgun in the general region of Richardson and Ortiz.
“He had the shotgun on his shoulder and I could see the barrel,” Richardson said. “I did believe he would shoot and was scared for my safety.”
Richardson told Zachary Ortiz to drop the shotgun “two or three times,” Richardson said. When Zachary Ortiz did not comply, he and Ed Ortiz took cover, Richardson said.
“I caught a glimpse of Zach loading the shotgun,” Richardson said. “I could see rounds in his hand and he was pushing them into the loading magazine.”
That’s when Richardson said he took action.
“To me, that was his intent that he would fire his weapon,” Richardson said.
Richardson shot Zachary Ortiz, aiming for his chest and stomach region, but he could not recall how many times he fired. Richard said Zachary Ortiz then bled “profusely.”
The Journal-World reported in August that Zachary Ortiz suffered at least one gunshot wound to his leg.
Zachary Ortiz then slumped onto a couch next to him and went unconscious, Richardson said. Richardson then removed the shotgun from Zachary Ortiz’s hands and performed first aid as a second officer arrived, Richardson said.
Ortiz was later taken by air ambulance to Kansas University Hospital. Richardson and the second responding officer, Terry Hack, were put on administrative leave while the incident was investigated. After the District Attorney’s Office ruled their actions justifiable in July, the two returned to their jobs.
Douglas County District Court Judge Peggy Kittel on Friday dismissed a charge of aggravated assault relating to Zachary Ortiz’s behavior toward his father, but bound Zachary Ortiz over for trial on one count of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer.
Zachary Ortiz is free on a $50,000 bond. He will make his next court appearance at his arraignment Nov. 4, when he will enter a plea.