A former Montezuma County sheriff sergeant faces felony gun charges after firing at a suspect in a fatal car chase and shootout in McElmo Canyon in 2018.
In September, the 22nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Cortez charged former Sgt. Edward Francis Oxley with two counts of illegally discharging a firearm, Class 5 felonies. He pleaded not guilty, and the case was set for trial in April.
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 Montezuma 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 up to the use of deadly force by Oxley “unusual and, in many respects, troubling.”
Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin fired Oxley in September 2018 after an internal affairs investigation concluded that he violated three department polices during the chase that led to the fatal shootout, according to documents obtained by The Journal.
Nowlin accused Oxley of shooting at or from a moving vehicle, using unapproved ammunition while on duty, and carrying unapproved ammunition.
In an interview with The Journal in October 2018, Oxley said he had radioed in that the suspects unlawfully left the scene of a traffic stop, and he followed them without lights or sirens. 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.
Assistant District Attorney Furse said two charges alleging illegal discharge of a firearm were filed because there were two occupants in the suspect’s vehicle.
The charge claims Oxley violated state statutes by “unlawfully, feloniously, knowingly, or recklessly discharged a firearm into a motor vehicle occupied by the driver and passenger.”
Two other charges against Oxley, one alleging disorderly conduct, and one alleging second-degree official misconduct, were dismissed because of the statute of limitations for prosecution had run out.
On March 3, Oxley and his defense lawyer, Keenan Lovett, filed a motion arguing the charges of illegal discharge of a firearm do not qualify under the statute, which states it is not an offense if done by a “Peace Officer . . acting within the scope of such officer’s authority and in the performance of such officer’s duties.”
In a response, Furse argued that the motion be denied because Oxley violated Sheriff’s Office policy, and therefore is not immune from prosecution because “he was not acting within the scope of such officer’s authority and/or was not in the performance of such officer’s duties.”
District Court Judge Todd Plewe will rule on the defense motion for affirmative defense on Monday.