Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, an outspoken advocate of gun rights, has for years told a dramatic story about why she began openly carrying a gun. She says it was because a man was beaten to death in 2013 outside Shooters Grill, her restaurant in the municipality of Rifle, Colorado.
Boebert, a Republican, told the story to Fox News in a 2014 feature piece on the restaurant’s gun-packing servers. She told it during her successful 2020 campaign for Congress. She told it at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February 2021.
And on Wednesday, she told it again on the floor of the House of Representatives during a debate about a bill that would require background checks for gun sales by unlicensed or private sellers.
“There was an altercation outside of my restaurant where a man was physically beat to death. There were no weapons involved. He was beat to death by another man’s hands. I have a lot of young girls who work in my restaurant. And we needed an equalizer,” Boebert said in the House.
Facts First: Boebert’s claim that a man was beaten to death outside her restaurant is inaccurate, according to records obtained from local authorities. A forensic pathologist determined that a man who was found unresponsive by police on a sidewalk near the restaurant in August 2013 died because of “methamphetamine intoxication,” not homicide. However, Boebert did not invent her claim of a beating out of thin air. Though the death was ruled “accidental,” documents provided to CNN by the Rifle Police Department show that it was initially investigated as a potential homicide. The documents also say that witnesses told investigating officers that the man who died, who was allegedly found with suspected methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia, had been involved in some sort of physical altercation shortly before he collapsed. The documents say one witness had claimed that the man who died had been “beaten up” and “chased” before running away and falling on his face.
Given the initial existence of a homicide investigation and given the claims from some witnesses about a physical altercation – which we cannot independently corroborate – it’s at least possible that Boebert has had some genuine confusion about why the man died and that the incident did contribute to her decision to carry a gun.
Still, the death was declared accidental in September 2013, so Boebert has had more than seven years to get her facts straight. She has continued to say the man was beaten to death even after the Colorado Sun noted in a lengthy 2020 article about her that the incident had been deemed a drug death.
Police did not file charges in the incident, Rifle Police Chief Tommy Klein told CNN on Thursday. Klein said the homicide case was deemed “unfounded” based on the medical findings.
In a postmortem examination report provided to CNN by the Garfield County coroner, forensic pathologist Dr. Robert A. Kurtzman wrote that that there was a high level of methamphetamine in the man’s system and that the man had pulmonary edema, a fluid buildup in the lungs that can sometimes be related to methamphetamine use. “Methamphetamine is known to cause sudden death and abonormal behavior,” Kurtzman wrote.
Kurtzman wrote that the man had “superficial abrasions consistent with a fall” but no associated internal injury, plus “a non-specific patterned abrasion around the left upper arm and chest” without an associated internal injury. He wrote that the man may have had a physical altercation nearby, “ran from the scene and collapsed.”
We asked Klein if he was sure that the death described in the investigation documents his department provided to CNN is the only death Boebert could have been talking about. Klein said he is “certain.”
Boebert’s office did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment on Thursday. On Friday, Boebert objected on Twitter to a Washington Post fact check that awarded her three “Pinocchios” over the story. She argued that the Pinocchios were undeserved because, she claimed, the Post “agrees with me that a man got into a fight and died less than a block from my restaurant.” However, that is not what she had actually claimed on the House floor on Wednesday; again, she had said that the man was “beat to death.”
It’s worth noting that Boebert has occasionally been somewhat more careful in her language about the incident than she was on Wednesday.
In one 2014 interview with a Colorado newspaper, which was spotted by the fact-check website Snopes, Boebert said that, in an “altercation” outside the restaurant, “a man was assaulted and he ended up dying.”
In a Twitter video Boebert posted in January 2021, she said, “After a violent incident outside my business, I took advantage of Colorado’s open-carry laws and began to carry at work.”
Again, we can’t confirm or debunk the claim that there was an assault or a violent incident. But in these versions of the story, Boebert at least does not say that the man was beaten to death.
CNN’s Tara Subramaniam contributed to this report.