A Ouray County jury on Thursday evening found a Ridgway man guilty on multiple felony charges stemming from a case in which he threatened three local law enforcement officers and employees and stalked one of them.
David Gottorff, 47, was convicted of three counts of attempting to influence a public servant and single counts of menacing and stalking. The jury deliberated about three hours before returning guilty verdicts following a three-day trial.
Gottorff alternately hung his head and shook it as 7th Judicial District Judge D. Cory Jackson read the verdicts aloud. He was taken into custody after the hearing and booked at the Montrose County Jail, where he will be held without bond until his Sept. 7 sentencing.
Seventh Judicial District Attorney Seth Ryan announced in a news release Gottorff could be sentenced to up to 18 years in prison.
Ryan told the Plaindealer he was “extremely satisfied” with the verdict and proud of the hard work his team put into the case. He specifically commended the work of Ouray County Undersheriff Tammy Stroup, who led the investigation.
With the guilty verdict, “the community is definitely in a safer position,” Ryan said.
The Plaindealer left a message with defense attorney Nick Kreider seeking comment but had not received a reply as of Friday afternoon.
Prosecutors alleged during the trial that over the course of nearly five months late last year and early this year, Gottorff posted a series of messages on social media and made phone calls threatening several law enforcement officers. Specifically, Gottorff targeted Ridgway Marshal Shane Schmalz, Ouray County sheriff’s investigator Bernie Chism and sheriff’s employee Shelly Kuhlman. In one call, prosecutors said, Gottorff threatened to kill Kuhlman.
In some online posts, Gottorff claimed he had the legal authority to “take human life” while performing a “citizen’s arrest” of Schmalz. He also posted photos of himself posing with an assault rifle. In one post, Gottorff claimed if an officer contacted him it would be the “end of watch,” a term used to mark the date a police officer is killed in the line of duty.
Schmalz testified during the trial Gottorff followed him on one occasion, and that, coupled with Gottorff’s social media posts, left him fearful Gottorff would ambush him.
During closing arguments, Kreider argued Gottorff’s social media posts constituted legal and protected speech. He said Gottorff was subjected to online harassment after he was acquitted last fall in a stalking and criminal mischief case involving his neighbors, and that he was trying to raise public awareness about his frustration with local law enforcement and his belief police weren’t taking his harassment complaints seriously.
Kreider claimed Gottorff felt ostracized by the community, and that he has to “watch his back” in Ridgway.
Ryan, however, claimed those arguments were a distraction. He said the case wasn’t about Gottorff’s neighbors but about Gottorff’s behavior that put law enforcement officers in fear, which affected their personal lives and how they went about their jobs.
Ryan told the jury there are many ways Gottorff could have expressed his frustration toward law enforcement in a non-threatening way.
“He did it in a threatening way,” Ryan said.
In arguing for Gottorff to remain free on bond pending sentencing, Kreider noted the threats were largely contained to social media, and that Gottorff was concerned about taking care of personal business before sentencing, including his job and pets.
Ryan, though, said he was concerned about the safety of law enforcement and the community based on Gottorff’s behavior prior to and after he was arrested and charged. He asked that Gottorff be taken into custody and held without bond prior to sentencing.
Jackson ultimately sided with Ryan, saying the case involved “substantial threatening behavior.”
Gottorff was taken directly from the courtroom to the Montrose County Jail.
He was previously convicted of misdemeanor harassment in 2021, in a case involving his former employer, and has had ongoing legal battles involving his disparagement of Colorado Boy restaurants in Ouray and Ridgway.