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Colorado Springs police reactivate death investigation amid CU News Corps inquiries on gun deaths

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By April Nowicki
CU News Corps

Note: This story ran in the Colorado Springs Gazette on Aug. 23, 2014.

Jeremiah Mieir, 26, died in his Colorado Springs apartment in October 2013 from what officials said appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot to the mouth.

But no gun was found at the scene, no residue tests were run and the El Paso County coroner said the cause of death was undetermined.

The Colorado Springs police investigation went “inactive” a few months later; the last entry in the case report was Dec. 9 — shortly after Mieir’s mother, Kimberly Curtis, said she gave up her effort to get cell phone records she had obtained to the detective on the case. For months, those records went unexamined — until the CU News Corp found Curtis while working on stories about gun deaths in Colorado.

Within weeks, the records were in the hands of police and by July the case was active again.

Detective Jerry Schiffelbein, the lead investigator into Mieir’s death, said last week that the gunshot wound that killed Mieir may not have been self-inflicted, according to Curtis, who said she spoke to the detective on the phone. She said Schiffelbein also told her that he knew who brought the gun into Mieir’s apartment last October.

Schiffelbein confirmed that the CSPD has reopened the investigation into Mieir’s death, but declined to comment on the ongoing probe.

What happened to Mieir, and what happened after he died, speaks to the breadth of circumstances that surround hundreds of deaths every year in Colorado. In 2013, the CSPD responded to 2,645 calls regarding suicides, suicide attempts and undetermined deaths, according to Lt. Catherine Buckley, the department’s public information officer.

“Officers receive four hours of training on death of undetermined origin while in the training academy,” Buckley wrote in an email. “Part of this training includes 1.5 hours specific to suicide, which is taught by members of our violent crimes unit.”

In October 2013, the department responded to 221 calls regarding suicide or undetermined deaths. Among those was Mieir’s, which at first “appeared self-inflicted” to the coroner, Dr. Robert Bux, according to the police report. Bux later ruled the cause undetermined.

Schiffelbein relayed the initial information that Mieir’s death likely was a suicide to several other police officers and to Mieir’s mother.

Mieir’s story

Things were going really well for Mieir in the fall of 2013, said a friend, Ross Brown. Mieir had moved into his own apartment a few months earlier, was working the night shift at a McDonald’s and had reconciled with his ex-girlfriend and the mother of his 7-year-old daughter. His ex-girlfriend had recently agreed to let Mieir visit his daughter for the first time in nearly two years.

“He really wanted his daughter in his life,” Brown said. “She was just starting to be in his life — half the week she was staying with Jeremiah.”

Curtis said she found her son dead in his apartment and cold to the touch on a Tuesday afternoon. Curtis was babysitting her son’s daughter, and the three had planned to go out to dinner that night. Curtis’s phone calls to her son went straight to voicemail during the day, and when she couldn’t get a hold of him, she and her granddaughter went to his apartment.

Mieir’s apartment complex had a locked entry from the outside. People who entered the complex needed someone to let them in. She had a key to his apartment door, but not to the complex gates. Curtis and Mieir’s daughter waited outside until someone went in the complex, Curtis said.

“The door didn’t make the unlock sound when I used my key,” she said.

They found Mieir slumped over on the couch. Curtis didn’t know that her son had died from a gunshot wound.

“He had a seizure disorder,” Curtis said. “If he had another really bad seizure like (he had before), it could cost him his life.”

The next day police told Curtis that her son had been shot. She asked questions, she said, such as where was the gun, what happened and who had been there. And, she asked about getting the cell phone records to see whom her son had been talking to that night.

“(The detective) told me that he couldn’t get a court order to get the records himself because a crime needs to be committed first,” Curtis said. “His exact words were, ‘there was no crime.’”

At one point, Schiffelbein suggested to Curtis that Mieir might have been playing Russian Roulette when he died.

Curtis said that she and her son had been on a shared cell phone plan, and so she requested the phone records herself.

“When the records came, I repeatedly left voicemail messages and never received a call back,” she said.

On the last page of the police report, it says, “Kimberly Delgado (Curtis), the mother of Jeremiah Mieir, has failed to provide the requested cell phone records for Jeremiah Mieir that I had requested. There is no information as to whom Jeremiah Mieir may have been with at the time of his death.”

Schiffelbein and the CSPD declined to comment on whether Curtis’s voicemail messages were received.

Curtis said she asked about forensics testing and was told by Schiffelbein that “this isn’t TV.”

But Bux, the coroner, “did collect a (gunshot residue) test kit from the hand and face of Jeremiah Mieir,” according to the police report.

“As a matter of policy, we take (test kits) on all gunshot wounds,” Bux said. “If they’re not homicides, we keep them in evidence.”

All homicide residue test kits are sent to a crime lab to be analyzed. Because Mieir’s case was believe to be self-inflicted or a suicide by the police, his test kit was not sent for analysis. The CSPD declined to comment about whether Mieir’s test kit will be analyzed as part of the new investigation.

Bux said that even if that test kit was analyzed, it wouldn’t necessarily provide any useful information.

“If you have a firearm that is fairly good quality, you’re not going to get any gunshot residue coming out of the cylinder,” Bux said.

He said that if gunpowder residue was identified on the body of Mieir, it couldn’t prove if the death was a suicide or not.

Troubled past

Mieir had tried to kill himself in the past, and Curtis told the detective and CU News Corps that her son had expressed suicidal thoughts on multiple occasions, including one drunken incident nearly 10 years before his death that landed him in the hospital and then a mental institution.

Some of Mieir’s depression involved his visitation rights with his daughter, Curtis said. Mieir’s ex-girlfriend and the mother of his daughter, Jana Hayman, had refused to let him see his daughter for two years while she was seeing another man.

“After she broke up with that guy, she let Jeremiah see (his daughter),” Curtis said. “He was in heaven. He spent every moment with her.”

Curtis said her son once told her that if he didn’t die of natural causes, he would die at someone else’s hand, because he hadn’t been successful at killing himself.

“He said he gave up on trying because of (his daughter) being a constant in his life,” Curtis said. “I still insist it wasn’t suicide.”

But Mieir had a history of expressing depressed and suicidal thoughts to several family members and friends, and also of drinking excessively on Monday nights. Mieir’s blood alcohol content was above the legal limit for driving when he died, according to the coroner’s report.

Mieir also sold marijuana to friends, and kept recordings of who owed him money in a notepad in a kitchen drawer, along with cash for paying bills. Some pages of the notepad were ripped out, and some, but not all, of the cash was missing, Curtis said. He had been robbed a few months prior to his death by two young men who had been buying from him. Mieir reconnected with them after the robbery and remained in touch, according to Curtis.

According to Curtis, Schiffelbein last week interviewed the two people who were identified as being present in Mieir’s apartment on the night he died.

“He wouldn’t tell me who they were or what they said,” Curtis said. “But he said that one of them is someone known by the family.”

Curtis said that during her phone conversation with Schiffelbein, he said that new evidence was uncovered during the interviews, and that new tests must be completed by the coroner to determine if Mieir’s death was a suicide.

“He said that it won’t change his mind about the case, and that the final call needs to come from the coroner,” she said.

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Explanatory multimedia reporting from CU Boulder journalism students
Colorado Springs police reactivate death investigation amid CU News Corps inquiries on gun deaths