A man deemed mentally ill was incorrectly allowed to buy a gun last month because law enforcement agencies did not communicate fast enough to block the sale, Denver7 Investigates has discovered.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation agrees a 60-year-old man from Larimer County should have been prohibited from buying a gun after he was found mentally incompetent to stand trial in 2014. He was allowed to buy a gun in February anyway.
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 him to a mental health facility to have his competency restored. Instead, prosecutors dropped the case, and he was released.
He surfaced in February when he tried to buy a gun at a Walmart in Loveland.
The gun background check done by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation turned up evidence his 2014 case was dismissed due to him not being competent to stand trial. Results of his background check did not indicate grounds for an immediate denial. 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 told Denver7 investigative reporter Jace Larson.
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," said CBI Director John Camper.
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.
A supervisor in the appeals office had assisted the technician with the initial background check, and that appears to have contributed to the mailing mix-up, Camper said.
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. They 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," the court documents say the neighbor told investigators.
At one point agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives became involved.
The ATF took the unusual step in Colorado of going to a judge and obtaining a search warrant to take the gun.
The warrant was never executed because the man gave up the guns to a friend, other court records show.
The purchase broke federal law, the ATF determined.
An ATF agent wrote in a court document that the government's lawyer "determined that [the man] is prohibited from possessing firearms…".
CBI denies any problem with this case
Medina said this incident was handled properly, though she admits the man should not have been able to purchase a gun.
"I feel like our people did our due diligence and the system worked," she said. "The system worked as it was designed to."
She said errors in the gun background check process occur infrequently.
CBI's director wishes the documents had arrived sooner.
"I don't know that I would call it a mistake," said Camper. "We have taken some steps to try and ensure that doesn't happen again. We would like to make sure that the person requesting the documentation is the person who is going to get that documentation back."
The man who is in charge of the gun background check system in Colorado says his office runs nearly 400,000 checks a year.
"I'd just like to say that you know we do hundreds of thousands of these checks every year. I'm really proud of our employees who do this every day," said CBI's Dan Volz.
Court system reviewing situation
It's unclear whether court employees in Boulder did or should have notified the state about the mental health component of the assault case. The Office of the State Court Administrator is responsible for flagging a person in the federal databased checked when a person applies to buy a gun, state court spokesman Jon Sarche said Tuesday.
He said the state is looking into the matter.
Denver7 first contacted the state about this issue last week.