Kristin Bantle takes stand
Steamboat Springs — Kristin Bantle chose to testify in her own defense Wednesday and could not tell a jury why she omitted information on a questionnaire that included questions about her past drug use.
“I have no idea,” said Bantle, a former Steamboat Springs Police Department officer who was fired in August.
On Thursday, a jury will have to decide whether enough evidence was presented to convict Bantle, who has been charged with attempt to influence a public servant, specifically Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins.
Disenchanted with the Steamboat Springs Police Department administration and atmosphere, Bantle applied for a job with the Sheriff’s Office in 2013. The District Attorney’s Office alleges Bantle lied about her past drug use during the pre-screening process. The charge is a Class 4 felony.
The jury is expected to reconvene at 9 a.m. Thursday, and closing arguments will be made. The jury will also be read the elements of the charge before going into deliberations.
The definition of the charge is “any person who attempts to influence any public servant by means of deceit or by threat of violence or economic reprisal against any person or property, with the intent thereby to alter or affect the public servant’s decision, vote, opinion, or action concerning any matter which is to be considered or performed by him or the agency or body of which he is a member.”
The key pieces of evidence presented at the trial were two questionnaires Bantle was asked to complete as part of the hiring process at the Sheriff’s Office.
The first 22-page questionnaire was given to Bantle after she was conditionally offered the job. The questionnaire allowed the Sheriff’s Office to conduct their own background check.
One of the questions asked was about Bantle’s past drug use and listed the names of drugs. She only circled marijuana and wrote that she had done it about six times during college. Bantle did not write anything about the marijuana edible she admitted consuming during the previous Christmas holiday.
“I was just in a hurry,” Bantle testified. “I just circled one. Yeah I did it in college. That’s what I was thinking.”
District Attorney Brett Barkey asked Bantle whether she circled the word cocaine.
“No, I did not,” Bantle said.
Bantle admitted during testimony that she did cocaine while employed as a Steamboat police officer during a vacation in Chicago. Bantle said that at the time she was upset with her current employer.
“I let my hair down and made a mistake,” Bantle said.
The second questionnaire Bantle was asked to fill out during the hiring process was for a polygraph test on the Front Range.
On that questionnaire, polygraph examiner Brent Sprague testified that Bantle wrote about recent marijuana use, the cocaine use and to doing ecstasy during college.
When Sprague interviewed Bantle, she then admitted to also using acid and mushrooms during college.
“That’s when I thought about it,” Bantle said to the jury when talking about the belated disclosure.
The video interview with Sprague was shown to jurors.
Sprague asked Bantle whether she had declared to the Sheriff’s Office that she had used marijuana recently. Bantle said she reported using the marijuana in college.
“But you didn’t tell them about last Christmas, no?” Sprague asked, while laughing.
In his report to the Sheriff’s Office, Sprague testified that Bantle falsified information regarding her use of illegal drugs.
Bantle’s attorney, Matt Tjosvold, asked Bantle why she disclosed the drugs during the polygraph process.
“Because I’m an honest person and thought it was important for the sheriff to know,” Bantle said.
After not being hired by the Sheriff’s Office, Bantle met with Undersheriff Ray Birch. He recorded the interview with a recorder covered by a piece of paper. The recording was played for the jurors.
“I was naive,” Bantle said to Birch. “I shouldn’t have told the truth.”
The District Attorney’s Office began investigating the allegations against Bantle this summer after Wiggins tipped off Interim Police Chief Jerry DeLong about Bantle’s past cocaine use while being employed as a police officer. Bantle also served for a period as the school resource officer.
The District Attorney’s Office was granted a court order for Bantle’s pre-employment file at the Sheriff’s Office.
The jurors watched a video recording of District Attorney’s Office investigator Doug Winters interviewing Bantle, who was accompanied by her former attorney at the police department.
During a Oct. 30 hearing, Tjosvold argued jurors should not be shown the video, where Bantle is heard saying she did not know why she wrote having used cocaine.
Bantle admitted that she lied to Winters because she thought the pre-employment information would be kept confidential.
“I wasn’t going to tell him,” Bantle said. “That was my choice.”
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