Colorado woman convicted for filing false "red flag" report against officer who killed her son

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I feel for Susan Holmes. I really do. It was three weeks ago today that my oldest son died, and every day since has been a struggle to not become overwhelmed and incapacitated by grief. Holmes, whose son Jeremy was shot and killed by a police officer in Colorado in 2017, has years more experience than I do about the pain that never goes away and the thoughts of “what could have been done differently so that this didn’t happen”.

Susan Holmes’ grief is genuine. Her pain is real. But that doesn’t make what she tried to do to the officer who shot her son acceptable, rational, or even legal, and now Holmes is set to pay the price for her own actions.

Late last week a jury in Fort Collins, Colorado found Homes guilty of perjury and attempting to influence a public official for lying about the officer’s relationship to her son on an extreme risk protection order application she filed against the police officer soon after the state’s “red flag” gun seizure law took effect. Holmes had checked a box on the ERPO application indicating that she and Colorado State University Cpl. Phillip Morris had a “child in common” with each other; the child being Jeremy Holmes.

In finding Holmes guilty of both charges, jurors decided Holmes and Morris do not share a child in common and that Holmes knowingly lied on the petition and attempted to influence the chief judge at the time, Judge Stephen Howard, into granting the petition.

A hearing was held on the petition in front of Howard on Jan. 16, 2020, and Howard denied the petition after Holmes declined to provide evidence that she was a family or household member with Morris. Holmes told reporters after that hearing that “I do not feel I’ve perjured myself.”

The phrase “child in common” is not further defined on the form, which is designed to be filled out by someone without an attorney, and the entire extreme risk protection order law and documents are poorly written, Holmes’ defense attorney Matthew Landers said during this week’s trial. He argued Holmes did not knowingly lie on the form and genuinely believes she and Morris share a child in common because Morris fatally shot her son.

I realize that Holmes’ attorney was just trying to provide the best defense to an indefensible act, but I’m glad that the jury saw through his argument. At the time he was shot and killed Jeremy Holmes was 19-years old. He was also holding a knife in his hand that he had refused to drop after repeated requests from Morris, and he was shot after Morris attempted to holster his weapon and pull out his Taser. When Jeremy Holmes saw Morris lowering his gun, he charged at the officer, knife in hand, and was shot and killed.

Jeremy Holmes was absolutely Susan Holmes’ child, but he wasn’t a child or a minor in the legal sense of the word, and he certainly didn’t have a child in common with Susan Holmes; a point that prosecutor Robert Axmacher hammered home with the jury.

“Is this seven degrees of Kevin Bacon?” Axmacher said to the jury during his closing statement. “Ultimately, we all share something in common, but that’s not what the form says and that’s not reasonable.”

Axmacher asserted Holmes knew exactly what she was doing and seized the opportunity to use this new law to her advantage.

“This was not a mistake, this was not an oversight, this was not confusion,” Axmacher said. “This was a grieving mother’s revenge.”

Axmacher said Holmes is very smart, and since her son’s death she has become an outspoken advocate for police transparency and against police violence. Jurors watched a video Holmes had made and posted online a few days after submitting the red flag petition where Holmes speaks about police violence and advocates for an amendment to the red flag law to allow citizens to petition for law enforcement officers to have their guns taken.

Axmacher also told the jurors to “follow the evidence, not your heart.”

“Ms. Holmes is not a bad person, but she did break the law,” he said.

Holmes faces the possibility of two-to-six-years in prison for her crimes, as well as fines that could end up reaching $500,000. And while ordinarily I’d discount the possibility of a stiff sentence, she has another unresolved legal issue that could impact the amount of time she spends behind bars. See, this was actually Holmes second trial on perjury charges. What happened during the first trial?

The first trial ended abruptly on the first day of jury selection when two potential jurors reported that Holmes had approached them outside the courtroom during a break. One potential juror reported the conduct to Holmes’ attorney at the time, who reported the conduct to the judge.

A separate hearing in front of a different judge, Judge Juan Villaseñor, was held to decide how the case would proceed. Holmes was “understandably” upset and the incident resulted in “irreconcilable conflict” between Holmes and her attorney, who withdrew from the case.

During that hearing, Holmes allegedly continuously interrupted Villaseñor and others despite several warnings to stop, Villaseñor wrote in a court order, which led to Holmes being found in contempt of court.

Holmes then left the courthouse, even though she was told to stay, according to court documents. Holmes later failed to appear for court dates in her perjury case and contempt case in mid-August, so warrants were issued for her arrest. She was arrested in New Mexico in November.

As much sympathy as I have for Holmes, she’s not doing anything to garner the sympathies of the court here, and I’m very curious to see what sentence she receives if and when she shows up for her sentencing hearing in July. At the very least I hope she is ordered to undergo both anger management and grief therapy counseling in addition to any fines or jail time she might receive.

Beyond what happens to Holmes, there’s a larger lesson about “red flag” laws here. On the one hand, I’m glad to see prosecutors taking this kind of false reporting seriously, but I suspect that one of the reasons that’s the case is the amount of media attention Holmes’ case has received. Another is the fact that Morris is a police officer. I’m less convinced that someone falsely accusing an ex or a family member of being a danger to themselves or others would generate the same amount of press attention or the ire of prosecutors, and honestly, that’s far from the only problem with the measures.