An Iraqi refugee accused of shooting a Colorado Springs police officer last summer was ordered Friday to undergo an evaluation to see if he’s mentally competent to stand trial.
Fourth Judicial District Judge Jann DuBois granted a request from Karrar Al Khammasi’s defense team that he be assessed before his trial, scheduled for May 13.
Al Khammasi, 32, has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder of a police officer, assault with a deadly weapon, felony menacing and illegal possession of a weapon. Prosecutors say that he wounded five-year police veteran Cem Duzel in a gunbattle near the U.S. Olympic Training Center on Aug. 2.
DuBois ordered that Al Khammasi be taken from the El Paso County jail, where he’s being held in lieu of $1 million bail, to the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo for the evaluation. She said she would be “surprised” if the assessment were completed before Al Khammasi’s trial date, noting that she’s seen other criminal defendants who’ve experienced delays before the state administers those evaluations.
Court-ordered mental competency evaluations are meant to determine whether those accused of crimes can understand the court proceedings against them and assist in their defense.
If Al Khammasi is found incompetent, he would be treated by state psychologists until a judge rules that his mental fitness has been restored.
The defendant has refused to come to some previous court hearings and appeared defiant while in court last fall.
He seemed subdued as he sat in the courtroom Friday with two deputies at his back and his face covered with a sheer, white “spit hood” typically used to protect officers from an inmate’s bodily fluids.
As DuBois informed him of his rights related to the competency hearing, he quietly acknowledged each one through an Arabic translator. He said he had previously undergone a competency evaluation, but that it was not in connection with a court case.
When the judge asked if he had questions, he asked that he be appointed an attorney “through the Iraqi embassy” — a request that has made at prior court hearings. DuBois replied that she was unsure she had the authority to grant the request.
Al Khammasi is the latest suspect in a high-profile, violent crime locally to be ordered to undergo a mental competency evaluation. James Edward Papol, accused of raping and killing a woman in Old Colorado City in 1988, was ordered March 1 to undergo an evaluation. Robert Lewis Dear Jr., who admitted to killing three people and wounding nine at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs in 2015, has been evaluated and repeatedly deemed incompetent to stand trial.
Duzel, who suffered a head wound, has been recovering at Craig Hospital, an Englewood rehabilitation hospital specializing in treatment of spinal cord and brain injuries.
Witnesses have said the shooting happened shortly after an Uber driver kicked Al Khammasi out of her car for being “touchy,” according to a September hearing.
Al Khammasi, too, was wounded in the shooting. Authorities have said he threatened to kill the officers who later guarded him in his hospital bed, where he allegedly said that shooting cops was “what I do.”
The defendant appears to have lived in the Pikes Peak region for about five years and has had at least nine contacts with police.
Immigration officials sought to deport him in 2016 after Al Khammasi pleaded guilty to felony trespassing, but his removal was canceled after a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision invalidated the grounds for his deportation.
The federal appeals court found that how the government defines an “aggravated felony” — a deportable offense — was unconstitutionally vague.
DuBois planned an update on the progress of Al Khammasi’s evaluation at his next appearance, set for May 3.