DENVER — The state court system admits a Boulder judge made a mistake in 2016 that allowed a mentally-ill man to buy a rifle this year.
The admission comes following a Denver7 investigation that questioned the process after a judge verbally talked about the man being mentally incompetent to stand trial on charges he assaulted a police officer, but never issued a formal order.
The state court system remedied the problem by entering a retroactive court order Wednesday specifically stating the man was mentally incompetent to stand trial. Such an order creates a flag in the man’s federal gun background check file.
The issue came to light after Denver7 investigative reporter Jace Larson learned a 60-year-old man from Larimer County was allowed to buy a gun from a Loveland Walmart in February.
The man was then allowed to hang on to the .44 caliber rifle for weeks, as it took law enforcement time to realize the mistake and then to find the man. He eventually gave up the gun and others he owned when his friend agreed to take possession of them.
The man was charged in 2014 with assault after a police officer says he attacked him in a movie theater.
A judge never sent the defendant to a mental health facility to have his competency restored. Instead, prosecutors dropped the case, and he was released.
The gun background check done in February by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation turned up evidence his 2014 case was dismissed due to him not being competent to stand trial. However, results of his background check did not indicate grounds for an immediate denial but instead showed a follow-up was needed.
That prompted the state to temporarily halt the gun purchase and issue a three-day delay, CBI spokeswoman Susan Medina said.
After the three-day delay, the man purchased the gun because Walmart had not heard back from CBI or been told to block the sale.
"In this case, it took a bit longer than the three days for our technicians to get back the documentation they were looking for," CBI Director John Camper said.
Camper said Boulder County mailed the court records instead of emailing or faxing them. Those records arrived on Feb. 9, the last day of the three-day delay period.
CBI did not immediately open the documents because they were mailed to a background check appeals office supervisor, rather than a background check technician who would have made sure Walmart was notified not to sell the gun.
That appeals employee was out of the office, Camper said, causing another delay.
The mistake was discovered Feb. 13, a week after the man bought the gun. CBI agents attempted to reach out to him but were initially unsuccessful.
Court documents show The Larimer County Sheriff’s deputies and CBI agents found no one at the man’s home when they went to talk to him about his gun purchase.
“It is the neighbor’s opinion that sooner or later [the man] may shoot someone,” court documents say the neighbor told investigators.
The issue would have been avoided if the judge had entered the correct order two years ago because it would have triggered the state court system to flag the man’s record in a federal database checked when anyone purchases a gun.