Colorado State Patrol fires Steamboat trooper after inappropriate actions with 3 women
October 4, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A Colorado State Patrol trooper working out of Steamboat Springs has been fired after allegations surfaced that he acted inappropriately with women he had arrested for driving under the influence.
Kris Hammond, who has been practicing law in Steamboat for 32 years, brought the allegations against Trooper Jules Higgins to the attention of the District Attorney's Office, which subsequently notified State Patrol.
"Never seen anything like this before," Hammond said.
An attempt was made to reach out to Higgins for comment. His phone went straight to voicemail, and he did not return a message.
The allegations came from three of Hammond's female clients.
Hammond's first client came to him after she got arrested Oct. 29, 2017, and she told him about issues related to Higgins.
"The first client said he had been acting weird, and I didn't think much of it," Hammond said. "I didn't think it was going to turn into anything."
The second and third female DUI clients then came to Hammond for legal representation after they got arrested March 23 and April 29.
"Their stories were very similar," Hammond said. "One cried when she talked to me on the phone. She cried when she talked about how he had acted."
There is extensive documentation of the allegations, including text messages, voicemails and arrest paperwork as well as audio and dash camera footage.
According to Hammond, Higgins’ alleged questionable behavior included promises to help the women with their DUIs. He also made inappropriate comments and even met with one of the women at Starbucks.
Hammond said the first client told him Higgins called and left a message inviting her to call him back.
With the other two clients, Higgins wrote his phone number on the back of paperwork at the jail, Hammond said.
"In my mind that really crossed the line, and every police officer I've talked to agreed that that is unprofessional and completely unacceptable," Hammond said.
The microphone Higgins was required to wear on his uniform recorded conversations at the jail.
"Saying things like, 'Oh my god she's beautiful,'" Hammond said. "Telling other officers at jail, 'The only time I meet women is when I arrest them.'"
Higgins seemed to be aware he was being recorded.
"I can't say anymore because the cameras are rolling," Hammond recalled Higgins saying to one of the women.
Hammond said a series of text messages led to Higgins meeting one of the women at Starbucks.
"Higgins told her, 'I'm not going to help you until you delete all the text messages back and forth between us,'" Hammond recalled.
The woman deleted the messages as Higgins watched, Hammond said.
Hammond said Higgins then explained to the woman how her court case would likely play out.
"Then he immediately went into his girl problems," Hammond said. "How lonely, how hard it was for him to meet women.
"Things you would say to open the door for an invitation to respond," Hammond said. "It's not really asking her out on a date, but it's pretty close."
During a Department of Motor Vehicles hearing related to one of the woman's DUI cases, Hammond asked Higgins under oath about the statements he had made.
"When I asked him about these statements, he denied making the statements," Hammond said. "I think that's when I contacted the District Attorney's Office and told them about this. He was basically lying under oath about what had happened that night."
Hammond clarified that the definition of perjury can be vague and is not just simply lying while under oath.
Hammond said the lie has to be related to information that is material to the case.
The Steamboat Pilot & Today made attempts to interview the women about the allegations.
Hammond said one woman was afraid to talk for fear of retribution from Higgins. The other two initially said they wanted to tell their stories but then they stopped responding to requests for comment from the newspaper.
After being fired, Higgins messaged one of the women via Facebook.
"Just thought I would let you know that due to your complaints about me, trying to get you off your DUI, I was actually sacked from my job!" Higgins wrote in the message. "Thanks you for being so nice, especially when all I did was ty (sic) and help you. I hope things are working out well for you. If you wish to give me a job then feel free to offer."
District Attorney Brett Barkey's office reviewed the information and documentation that Hammond had provided, and Barkey decided to dismiss a total of six traffic cases where Higgins would have had to testify.
"I was not comfortable bringing any case he had," Barkey said.
The dismissed cases included two involving Hammond's clients, whose cases were still pending. Barkey is reviewing Higgins' past cases, including the one for Hammond's third client who already had pleaded guilty to a crime.
The cases dismissed were all in Routt County, and Barkey was not aware of any other cases in the 14th Judicial District, which encompasses Routt, Grand and Moffat counties.
Barkey ultimately decided not to pursue criminal charges against Higgins.
Hammond, only recently, turned over to the District Attorney’s Office the Facebook message Higgins sent to one of the women after he was fired.
"Our investigation, however, did not uncover sufficient evidence to charge Mr. Higgins with the crimes of perjury or official misconduct," Barkey said in a statement. "Criminal convictions require that specific elements be proven beyond a reasonable doubt – a very different standard from what is required to fire an employee. Therefore, after a review of the evidence and the law, I determined that it was not appropriate to bring criminal charges against Mr. Higgins."
Barkey stated his office takes allegations of misconduct against law enforcement officers very seriously.
"Our community can be proud of its law enforcement professionals and can be confident that when an individual falls below the expected level of professionalism, there will be swift action and appropriate accountability," Barkey wrote. "The Colorado State Patrol's termination of Mr. Higgins, and my office's dismissal of any pending cases he initiated, prove that point."
Hammond believed the situation was handled well.
"They took it seriously," Hammond said. "The system worked the way it's supposed to work."
Higgins is appealing his termination, which limited what State Patrol officials were allowed to say about the case.
"We are currently in litigation that has been filed with the Colorado State Personnel Board," the State Patrol wrote in a statement. "The Colorado State Patrol will make no further comment at this time.”
Hammond praised his clients for speaking up, which is oftentimes difficult for victims.
"I think it's important for someone who has been victimized to come forward," Hammond said.
Hammond decided to take the story public after getting permission from his clients.
"It's an important story because when it was brought to light, the DA's office and the State Patrol took swift, decisive action to make sure it never happens again and to hold Higgins accountable for what he did," Hammond said.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect the timeline for the women’s arrests.