On Jan. 24, an FBI agent faced Jonathan Swapp's rifle, which was aimed squarely at him from 35 or 40 yards away. The agent aimed his own rifle at Swapp but held fire, as he was not allowed to shoot unless Swapp did first.
That was the testimony of agent Donald W. Kusulas, Colorado Springs, a 22-year FBI veteran, who told of the chilling incident Friday afternoon in the Singer-Swapp trial, which continues in U.S. District Court. The standoff occurred during the 13-day siege at Marion, Summit County, which ended with the death of Corrections officer Lt. Fred House.Federal agents had set up a surveillance position in the Jepsen home, about 200 yards west of the Singer-Swapp farmhouse. Around 5:35 p.m. on Jan. 24, they saw Jonathan and Addam Swapp leave the homestead and walk toward their post.
An agent called for them to take their tactical posts, so Kusulas hurried to a position behind a log barricade the FBI had built beside the Jepsen home garage. Addam Swapp carried a rifle slung over his back, while Jonathan Swapp carried his at "port arms," at a ready position, with the barrel in the air.
Addam picked up a 10-foot piece of pipe and began sticking it in the ground, as if trying to turn on a water line. Jonathan stood guard.
Suddenly, "I observed him (Jonathan) raising his rifle and pointing it directly at me," Kusulas said. The agent's body was partly in Jonathan Swapp's view.
"And then I raised my M-16 (automatic
military rifle) up and pointed it directly at him. I made my body as small a target as I could."
The men kept the pose for about 10 seconds, then the Swapps went back to the farmhouse.
Asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Lambert why he had aimed at Jonathan Swapp, Kusulas said, "I had to be ready to shoot back."
"Were you in fear of your life at that time?"
"Yes, sir," Kusulas said.
Asked why he didn't shoot, Kusulas said that "under the rules of the engagement," the law officers were under orders not to shoot unless shot at first. In fact, they couldn't shoot at the house even if shots rang out from there first. They could only return fire if the assaulting person were outside, away from the homestead.
Three days earlier, somebody in the farmhouse took a shot toward the Jepsen residence, he said.
"I was looking through binoculars. I was in the living room," Kusulas said. He was near a window, looking out.
"I noticed the window (of the Singer home) opening . . . All of a sudden there was a blast from the gun, and snow fell off from the branches of a pine tree on the right side, and I immediately hit the ground."
Responding to a question by Lambert, he said of the shot, "It frightened me. I thought there might be more rounds coming in, so I just toppled over and lay on the ground."
FBI agent Charles T. Evans, Boulder, Colo. a member of the same special seven-man SWAT team as Kusulas said that when that shot came toward the Jepsen home, he saw a rifle in the window of a bedroom of the Singer house.
He ran through the house, yelling a warning. When he was in the living room, "a high-powered rifle shot passed our location."
Agent Kusulas "spun off a chair and flew across the room. I thought he was hit, but he wasn't."
He heard the loud crack of the rifle, almost simultaneously with the bullet's whine. "Gunshots coming in your direction have a different sound than gunshots going away," he said.
By the sound, he knew "it came very close."
Speaking of the Jan. 24 incident when the Swapp brothers were outside, Evans said he was in the Jepsen home's garage. He saw Jonathan Swapp level his rifle "directly at Special Agent Kusulas' position.
"I immediately brought my shotgun up to a shoulder position, directing my shotgun at Jon."
Why didn't he shoot? asked Lambert.
Evans said it was his understanding "we were under direct orders not to fire unless we were fired upon . . . After I decided not to shoot, Jonathan eventually lowered his weapon, had some words, some conversation, with Addam."
The two replaced the metal rod and returned to the farmhouse, he said.
He testified that Jonathan kept his rifle aimed about 30 seconds. But under cross-examination by defense lawyer Bruce Savage, he acknowledged his Feb. 2 report said Jonathan pointed his gun for 15 or 20 seconds.
At one point, Savage framed a question by asking, "You thought Jonathan was doing something wrong . . . "
Evans replied, "Pointing a rifle at my partner."
This is the end of the first week of testimony in the trial, which is expected to last two more weeks at least. On Friday, Roger Bates a son-in-law of Vickie Singer remained outside the courtroom, his situation still unclear.
On Thursday he was called to the witness stand, but quickly cited the Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination.