In district court Monday, former Montezuma County Sheriff Sgt. Edward Francis Oxley pleaded guilty to first-degree official misconduct as part of a six-month deferred judgment and sentence for his actions during a fatal car chase and shootout in McElmo Canyon in 2018.
Two felony charges of illegally discharging a firearm were dismissed as part of the plea agreement and sentence accepted by 22nd Judicial District Judge Todd Plewe.
The official misconduct charge, a Class 2 misdemeanor, stems from Oxley’s use of unauthorized ammunition during the shootout, in violation of Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office policy.
According to the charge and factual basis, Oxley “unlawfully and knowingly” violated a state statute on Feb. 15, 2018, when he “violated a lawfully adopted rule relating to his position as Deputy Sheriff by knowingly using ammunition not authorized by the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office.”
The guilty plea limits Oxley’s ability to become a police officer under Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training certification, said Assistant District Attorney Will Furse.
As part of the deferred sentence, the guilty plea would not become a conviction if Oxley complies with conditions by not violating any major laws for six months.
However, it could affect Oxley’s certification, required for police officers.
According to POST standards, state law prohibits POST certification of any person who has been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors.
“POST Board will begin revocation proceedings upon sentencing for a decertifying crime, including deferred sentences regardless of the ultimate outcome of the deferment,” according to the POST website.
Misdemeanors listed by POST that prevent certification or revocation include first-degree official misconduct.
Under POST regulations, a person who faces certification denial or revocation, may request a variance to allow certification under the POST Rule 8 Process for Seeking Exemption from Statutory Certification Restrictions.
In a statement released to the The Journal Tuesday, Furse said the intent of the plea agreement was to prevent Oxley from becoming a law enforcement officer again.
“Mr. Oxley, with the intent to maliciously cause harm to another person, violated departmental policy and put lives at risk,” Furse stated. “These actions, along with his admission of guilt, will decertify him as a peace officer. It is my hope this will forever prevent Mr. Oxley from wearing an officer’s badge again.”
The misconduct charge could not be prosecuted because of statute of limitations, Furse said, but that does not prevent Oxley from pleading guilty to the charge as part of the plea agreement that included the deferred sentence.
The dismissed two felony charges that alleged illegal discharge of a firearm were originally filed for two other occupants who were in the vehicle Oxley was firing at. During the court hearing, Furse said one of the victims was contacted supported the plea agreement. The other victim could not be reached, he said.
According to court records, on Feb. 15, 2018, while on duty with the Sheriff’s Office, Oxley was shot at by Fordell Hill, a passenger of a vehicle that illegally fled the scene of a traffic stop on County Road G. The vehicle had three occupants.
A high-speed chase ensued, and Oxley and Hill exchanged gunfire while traveling west on Road G.
After Hill’s vehicle crashed inside the Utah border, Oxley shot and killed Hill during an exchange of gunfire between the two, according to case documents and interviews. The fatal shooting occurred on Navajo Nation land just west of the Ismay Trading Post.
In August 2018, after an investigation by the FBI, Utah U.S. Attorney John W. Huber ruled that the fatal use of force by Oxley was justified, and declined criminal prosecution. But Huber also expressed concerns about Oxley’s actions, calling the circumstances leading to the use of deadly force by Oxley “unusual and, in many respects, troubling.”
In an interview with The Journal in October 2018, Oxley said he had radioed that the suspects unlawfully left the scene of a traffic stop, and he followed them without lights or siren. He intended to follow them until they left the state, noting that San Juan County Utah authorities had been notified.
But because he was fired upon, Oxley defended his actions, saying that he believed someone willing to shoot at an officer could attack someone else. He said he fired back with his handgun in an attempt to disable the vehicle or suspect.
“As a law enforcement officer, it was my duty to stop him and protect the public,” Oxley said.
The two exchanged gunfire several times while driving west on Road G.
At one point, Oxley shot his department-issued AR-15 rifle through a hole in his patrol car’s windshield to get a better line of sight on the vehicle and to shield himself from gunfire. Oxley pulled over in the 4000 block of Road G to reload the rifle, then caught up with the suspects and continued to exchange gunfire.