Self-Defense or Second-Degree Murder?

Protest shooting may reveal hidden vulnerabilities within your ministry 

By Craig Cable, Director of Ministry Safety and Strategic Partnerships, American Church Group of Colorado 

On October 10, 2020, in Denver, Colorado, a 30-year-old private security guard who was hired to protect a Denver news crew while covering protests was involved in a deadly shooting that claimed the life of a 49-year-old man. 

According to multiple witnesses and substantiated by cell phone video captured at the scene, heated words were exchanged between the two parties, which resulted in a physical altercation where the security guard was slapped. Within a matter of seconds, the protester raised a can of pepper spray while nearly simultaneously, the security guard drew a concealed pistol and fired a single fatal shot. 

At first blush, this incident would appear to be far removed from any connection to your ministry. But from my perspective as a church security expert and security team trainer, I see several hidden vulnerabilities that could have significant implications for your ministry. 

Vunlerability #1:  Not All Ministry Security Team Members Understand the Reasonable Use of Force Standards 

When it comes to the use of deadly force in the state of Colorado, certain criteria must be met to justify the use of a deadly weapon against another person. According to Colorado Revised Statute 18-1-704 Use of Physical Force in Defense of a Person, the two main criteria for deadly force are: 

(1) Deadly force may also be used if in situations involving burglary or kidnapping. C.R.S § 18-1-704(2)(b)-(c).1  (2) the actor has reasonable ground to believe, and does believe, that he or another person is in imminent danger of being killed or of receiving great bodily injury. 

The Denver District Attorney and the legal system will now have to determine whether the escalation of circumstances rose to the threshold of justification for deadly force. Did the security guard reasonably believe that his life and the life of others were in imminent danger of being killed or receiving great bodily injury? For ministry leaders, you must ask the question, does every member of your church security team understand what is a reasonable response to any level of force—including deadly force? Their understanding or lack thereof will have a direct impact on your ministry. 

Vulnerability #2 Not All Ministry Security Team Members are Trained in the Use of Reasonable Force 

This incident demonstrates how quickly a situation can deteriorate. Initially, the security guard appears to be a bystander, but quickly finds himself in a situation involving the use of force. As a sworn officer and a private security professional, I can tell you that under high-stress situations, an individual will typically fall back on their highest level of training. If they have been trained in force options like de-escalation or open-handed defensive techniques, they are more likely to utilize those skills when needed. If they have received little to no training, their decisions will more likely be based on fear and survival instinct. 

A well-trained and practiced church security team will tend to make good decisions in a crisis. What decisions will your team make under extreme stress when the right answers are not glaringly clear? 

Vulnerability #3 Not all Ministries Purchase Insurance Coverage for Security Related Incidents 

Make no mistake, if a critical incident were to occur at your church, your ministry will never be the same. While we often think of protections in the physical sense, there should be protections in place that safeguard the health and well-being of your ministry, and the people who serve in it. We owe it to our congregations and our security team volunteers to care for their legal, physical, and emotional needs should you ever find yourself in a critical incident. For that reason, I implore the ministries that I work with to add two essential insurance coverages. 

The first is the Security Operations Liability Coverage. This endorsement covers your church or ministry leaders, your employees, and your emergency response personnel while they are acting on your behalf with the scope of their delegated authority. This coverage provides for medical coverage, wage loss, individual and family counseling, and even damage or loss of security-related equipment. 

The second essential endorsement is Traumatic Incident Response Coverage. This provides additional medical expenses, broadened wage loss reimbursement, and counseling to help heal the physical and emotional wounds of those who witnessed or were victims of the incident. It also provides reimbursement for temporary facility rental costs, for any expenses from additional security needs, and reimbursement costs for retaining legal counsel or a public relations specialist. 

While we pray that violence would never come to your ministries, no one can predict where or when violence is going to occur. It is important to remain vigilant and prepared for any situation. Whether it’s a domestic incident in your children’s ministry area or a mentally unstable person in your lobby, it’s essential that your volunteers are trained, practiced, and protected so that your ministry can survive the incident and continue to thrive afterward. 

To learn more about training opportunities that are available for your staff and church security team members, or the various coverages that Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company® offers, I can be reached at CCable@AmericanChurchGroup.com


Craig is a sworn peace officer and serves as a Reserve Deputy Sheriff for the patrol division at the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office. In addition to protecting our streets, Craig also helps protect county schools as a school marshal. Craig has trained hundreds of security team leaders and volunteers and was the lead developer of the Safe and Secure Church: The Ministry Approach training kit produced in partnership with Group Publishing and Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company. 
Source: FindLaw: For Legal Professionals. https://codes.findlaw.com/co/title-18-criminal-code/co-rev-st-sect-18-1-704.html 
Copyright. © 2020 American Church Group of Colorado, LLC. All rights reserved. The information is this article is intended to help your ministry better understand issues of vulnerability and mitigate risks. It does not constitute legal advice between an attorney and a client. If specific legal advice is required, your ministry is encouraged to consult with a local attorney. Neither Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company, American Church of Colorado, LLC, nor Craig Cable assume liability for reliance upon the information provided in this article. 
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