Kiowa County’s Sheriff Resigns Amid Controversy Around Fatal Shooting

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  • Susan Greene is a reporter, editor and coach for the Colorado News Collaborative (COLab). She was editor and executive director of The Colorado Independent before it merged with COLab and a longtime reporter and metro columnist at The Denver Post. She was selected as a 2020-2021 Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow, and is the inaugural recipient of the Benjamin von Sternenfels Rosenthal Grant for Mental Health Investigative Journalism.

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Casey Sheridan has announced his resignation as Kiowa County sheriff a year after two of his officers gunned down an unarmed handyman during a routine traffic stop. 

The second-term law enforcement chief in the far Eastern Plains county posted on his department’s Facebook page late Tuesday that he has “chosen to put my family and my health first as I step away from my law enforcement career.” His last day is June 4.

“This was an exceedingly difficult decision as I loved and enjoyed being the Sheriff of our county,” he wrote.

Sheridan swore into office in 2014 when his predecessor retired in the middle of his term. He was elected sheriff later that year and re-elected in 2018.

He has stayed silent — at least publicly — since April 9, 2020 when his then-Undersheriff Tracy Weisenhorn pulled over a truck for the driver’s failure to use a turn signal. Deputy Quinten Stump patted down the passenger, Zach Gifford, for 30 seconds before reaching into Gifford’s pocket for a baggy that later tested positive for methamphetamine residue. Gifford bolted. Both Weisenhorn and Stump fired at him as he ran, striking him three times in the back. The 39-year-old lifelong Eads resident bled to death in a field minutes later.

Sheriff Sheridan allowed Stump and Weisenhorn to keep their badges and county-issued guns while on paid administrative leave during the criminal investigation. He kept them on his staff months after that probe ended, even riding to the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota with Weisenhorn, among others. 

He ultimately fired Stump in November — not for Gifford’s killing, but for using his county-issued gun to drunkenly shoot up a traffic sign. He fired Weisenhorn the same week in March that an article by the Colorado News Collaborative and former Kiowa County Independent Editor Priscilla Waggoner exposed the details of Gifford’s killing, questionable practices within the Sheriff’s Department and Sheridan’s inaction about them.

Stump is currently facing rare criminal charges in connection with Gifford’s killing, and Weisenhorn has not been prosecuted. Gifford’s parents, in the meantime, are considering filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against Sheridan, county commissioners and Kiowa County government — partly for ignoring Stump’s documented pattern of excessive force in the months leading to their son’s homicide.

“We regret that Casey Sheridan had to step down, but as we have always stated, accountability and justice for Zach is necessary,” Carla and Larry Gifford said Wednesday morning. “Bad cops cannot think that they can kill unarmed people who are not threatening anyone such as our son.”

This story is brought to you by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative, a coalition of more than 130 news outlets