La Junta police officer James Ashby sentenced to 16 years for following a skateboarder home and killing him

LA JUNTA — A former small-town Colorado police officer was sentenced Thursday to 16 years in prison for fatally shooting a man in the back after he followed the man into his mother’s home, court officials said.

James Ashby, 33, was also sentenced to five years of parole in the Oct. 12, 2014 death of 27-year-old Jack Jacquez in the town of Rocky Ford, court officials said.

Jurors convicted Ashby in June of second-degree murder. He was the first Colorado police officer to face charges for an on-duty shooting in more than 20 years.

Prosecutors said Ashby followed Jacquez inside his mother’s home before shooting him and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation found the officer had no reason to believe Jacquez was committing a crime before he was killed.

Ashby told investigators that Jacquez mouthed off to him when he stopped him as he was skateboarding along the town’s main drag, court documents said.

Ashby also said he thought Jacquez was trying to burglarize the home he went inside because he walked erratically before heading toward the back entrance. Break-ins had been on the rise in the town of about 4,000 due to a rise in heroin addiction.

But the brother of another Rocky Ford police officer who was on a ride-along with Ashby that night contradicted Ashby’s account. Kyle Moore said Jacquez did not talk back to Ashby and walked to a side entrance to his house, where his mother opened the door for him.

Ashby said Jacquez grabbed a baseball bat inside the house and was about to swing it at him when he opened fire. But the coroner found that Jacquez was shot in the back, not a position he would have been if winding up for a swing.

Ashby was arrested a month after the shooting and fired from the Rocky Ford police department, where he had worked just five months.

Jacquez’s family is suing the Rocky Ford Police Department, saying it is to blame for hiring Ashby despite documented problems he had at another small police force that he resigned from during an excessive force investigation.

The department did not immediately return telephone calls Thursday seeking comment about the lawsuit.