Former soldier accused of overzealous neighborhood vigilantism in assault case

North Ruskin Place between Shelly Avenue and South Ruskin Place in Colorado Springs remained shut down Monday morning amid an assault investigation in which a citizen chase and held down a burglary suspect until police arrived.


By KAITLIN DURBIN | The Gazette (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 25, 2017

The family of a man nearly choked to death by a former soldier who believed he was stopping a neighborhood burglar say the veteran took his role as a neighborhood vigilante too far.

Scott Ryan Smith Jr., 25, remained in critical condition at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs on Tuesday, two days after he was held in a chokehold, depriving his brain of oxygen, stopping his heart for more than 30 minutes, and making a full recovery virtually impossible, family members said.

A day after the incident, 30-year-old Craig Uehling told The Gazette he was arriving at his home on the 3900 block of Ruskin Place North at about 10 p.m. Sunday when he saw a suspicious-looking man who he believed was a burglar in his driveway.

Uehling said he called out to the man, who ignored him and walked into a neighbor's backyard. He said he began to follow the man, who allegedly punched him twice in the face as Uehling was calling police.

The Army veteran said he then pulled Smith to the ground.

"He basically killed him right on the street, and the cops aren't doing anything about it," said Kristie Smith, Scott's aunt. "He choked him until he had no life left in him."

Under Colorado's self-defense laws, deadly physical force may be used "only if a person reasonably believes a lesser degree of force is inadequate," and believes that he, she or a third party is in "imminent danger of being killed or of receiving great bodily injury." The so-called make my day law provides a lower bar for the use of deadly force, but applies only to intruders inside an occupied dwelling.

On Tuesday evening, a doctor told the family that Scott would be "a permanent vegetable" if he ever came out of the coma, Kristie Smith said. He has two sons, ages 5 and 7.

"He's not a perfect kid. He has issues," Kristie Smith said. "There's still no reason for the death penalty."

The family believes Uehling should face attempted murder charges, or murder charges if - "God forbid" - Scott dies, Kristie Smith said. She said she asked three different police officers about possible charges, all of whom told her the investigation was ongoing and the 4th Judicial District Attorney was involved.

The Colorado Springs police violent crime and homicide units are investigating. No arrests had been made in the case as of Monday, according to a Monday news release from police.

A police spokesman did not respond to request for comment on Tuesday.

Uehling, who told The Gazette he has always served as sort of a neighborhood watchdog, said that he did not intend to kill the man when he choked him. "If he didn't make it, I'm going to feel bad, but it's my life, too," he said.

Scott's 22-year-old sister, Sierra Smith, said the family was told he was without oxygen for 15 minutes before authorities made it on scene and another 18 minutes before paramedics were able to bring back his heartbeat.

"You're not allowed to take the law into your own hands," Sierra Smith said. "You're not allowed to take the life of something else."

The Gazette's Jakob Rodgers contributed.

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