A Ridgway man has been found not guilty of felony stalking and misdemeanor criminal mischief in a case stemming from neighbors’ accusations that he repeatedly harassed and damaged their home.
A 12-person jury acquitted David Gottorff last week of these charges, on which he stood trial in Ouray County District Court after his next-door neighbors, Spencer Fuller and Erin Graham, accused him of shooting BB guns at their surveillance cameras, damaging the side of their house with rocks and other projectiles, and pantomiming shooting with his fingers at their security cameras and loudly singing songs they said were intimidating and meant to harass them.
The jury decided quickly, returning the verdict after about 90 minutes of deliberation during the four-day trial.
This case is the latest in a long history of conflicts between the neighbors, which came to a head in April when a judge granted a permanent protection order to Fuller and Graham, preventing Gottorff from contacting them at home or their business. Gottorff has also been involved in several cases related to conflicts with Colorado Boy Pizza and Brewery, his former employer Andy Michelich and others since 2019.
During this case, the prosecution presented evidence from the night the protection order went into effect, including a video of Gottorf singing that he was going to ‘raze this town’ and ‘we’re gonna escalate,’ as well as ‘drop you where you stand,’ and ‘I’m gonna terrorize your s***,’ among other lyrics and howling in the middle of the night in the backyard. They painted a scene where the neighbors lost sleep over Gottorff’s behavior and were afraid to use their home.
District Attorney Seth Ryan and Deputy District Attorney Rachel Allen also presented evidence that Gottorff had said, ‘cold beer, warm fire, hot lead,’ a statement Gottorff said was meant for Ridgway Marshal Shane Schmalz. Prosecutors also referenced a conflict between the neighbors over a sun shade in April 2021, in which Gottorff was recorded saying the officers would be ‘shot to s***’ if Fuller called police.
Gottorff has repeatedly called for Schmalz to be fired and has filed several complaints with the town about him. None have been substantiated.
During the trial, the jury viewed video evidence of Gottorff in his backyard, recorded by motion-activated cameras on the neighbors’ property, and heard evidence from several incidents recorded by those cameras.
The videos presented by the prosecution did not, however, show Gottorff actually shooting the side of the house or throwing rocks, causing damage to the neighbors’ siding.
Overall, the jury did not find the prosecutors met the burden of proving Gottorff was stalking his neighbors or was the one who damaged their house, according to one juror the Plaindealer spoke with on condition of not using the juror’s name.
The juror said Gottorff’s testimony showed another side to the story – one they agreed was about a longstanding ‘unfortunate’ conflict between the neighbors.
‘It seemed like they were just egging each other on,’ the juror said.
One of the keys to finding in favor of Gottorff was the motion- triggered camera pointed at his home, which had a light that would illuminate even when he was moving within his house.
That evidence, the juror said, seemed to show the neighbors had gone to great lengths to record his movements, to the point of invading his privacy within his home. As for Gottorff pantomiming the shooting with his fingers at the Ring camera, the juror said they didn’t think it was necessarily proven to be directed toward the neighbors.
‘Maybe it was just toward the camera that was driving him insane,’ they said.
A key piece of missing evidence the jury discussed was the lack of concrete evidence that Gottorff himself had damaged the neighbors’ home.
‘Out of all of those videos they had, they never showed him throwing the rocks. They never even showed the rocks coming at their house,’ the juror said. ‘There were rocks on the ground and there were dents in the siding, but it didn’t show him (doing it).’
Overall, the juror characterized the conflict as a sad situation and said, ‘I feel sorry for them. I’m sad he can’t get along with his neighbors.’
Visiting senior Judge Kenneth Plotz presided over the trial and thanked the jurors for their time and attention.
Gottorff’s attorney, Nick Kreider of Montrose, argued that Gottorff, in fact, was the one enduring the harassment of being surveilled in his own backyard.
“The presence of the cameras themselves is harassing,” he told the jury during closing arguments.
He also told the jury Gottorff has the right to sing stupid songs in his backyard and lyrics were part of his ‘creative process.’
Kreider also argued Gottorff knew the neighbors weren’t home the night of April 7, when much of the recordings were obtained, and that the cameras the neighbors used to record him presented a problem.
‘It did kind of give an intimate view into Mr. Gottorff’s property,’ he said. ‘It probably did serve to antagonize him more than to dissuade him.’
Kreider said Gottorff’s testimony gave him a chance to tell his side of the story, and that he has faced ‘very negative public perception,’ which manifested itself in the number of potential jurors that were excused. There were at least 50 called for jury selection and most of the Ridgway citizens who were called were dismissed.
Kreider urged people to accept the jury’s decision and move on.
‘Maybe put away the pitchforks a little bit and find peace with the verdict here,’ he said.
Ryan said he respected the jury’s decision and thanked them for their service.
Kreider said he intends to follow up with one incident that happened on the third day of the trial. One of the jurors told the bailiff she had received a text from Michelich, who has been involved in conflicts and court cases with Gottorff in the past. The contents of the text were not made public, but it was enough to get the woman dismissed from the jury. The rest of the jurors knew there was a text and that she was dismissed, but didn’t know what the text said.
Kreider and Ryan were both looking into the threshold for state laws on jury tampering. Ryan would make the decision on whether to pursue any potential legal consequences. ‘I think that kind of speaks to the lengths that some people are going to try to run Mr. Gottorff out of town,’ Kreider said of the text.