Police officer makes first court appearance | SteamboatToday.com

Police officer makes first court appearance

Kristin Bantle visits her supporters after Wednesday’s court hearing at the Routt County Justice Center.

Kristin Bantle visits her supporters after Wednesday's court hearing at the Routt County Justice Center.

Matt Stensland

— Steamboat Springs Police Department officer Kristin Bantle had a strong showing of support during her first, brief court appearance Wednesday.

More than 30 people, including children, crowded into the Routt County Justice Center courtroom, where the former school resource officer now finds herself on the other side of the justice system.

Among her supporters was Steamboat Springs High School campus supervisor Dennis Hensen.

After the hearing, Hensen said the Class 4 felony charge filed against Bantle was "overboard."

"A Class 4 felony because the info on a job application was not right?" Hensen asked.

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The District Attorney’s Office on July 14 filed one charge of attempt to influence a public servant against Bantle.

According to the charge, Bantle provided false information on an employment application submitted to the Routt County Sheriff’s Office in early 2013. The public servant named in the charge is Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins.

According to court documents, when Bantle applied for a job with the Routt County Sheriff's Office, she lied about a past instance of cocaine use.

During Wednesday's hearing, Bantle's attorney, Matt Tjosvold, asked Routt County Judge James Garrecht for a preliminary hearing. During a preliminary hearing, evidence is presented, and the judge decides whether there is probable cause for the case to move to district court, where felony cases are ultimately handled.

Because of the class of felony, Bantle is not automatically entitled to a preliminary hearing, and the District Attorney's Office objected to the request.

In light of the DA’s objection, Garrecht bound the case over to district court and scheduled the next hearing for 1 p.m. Aug. 21.

"We look forward to setting the matter for trial as soon as possible, because we believe this charge cannot be proven," Tjosvold said after the hearing.

Following complaints from a few parents — including Wiggins — regarding Bantle's conduct while working as the school resource office, Bantle was told June 8 she would no longer serve in that capacity, and she was reassigned to the patrol division. A week later, Bantle was placed on paid leave, subsequent to the allegations that she lied on the Sheriff's Office job application.

On July 21, City Manager Deb Hinvark announced Bantle had been recommended for termination. The termination process allows Bantle to present information as to why she should not be terminated.

On Wednesday, Interim Police Chief Jerry DeLong said the potential Sept. 1 departure of Hinsvark would not affect Bantle's termination process.

Since Bantle was removed from her position as the school resource officer, there has been a rally of support for her from teachers, parents and students.

Some believe Bantle being removed from her position as a form of retaliation against the officer, who is one of the people named in the March letter distributed by former Detective Dave Kleiber. The letter resulted in an independent investigation into allegations of misconduct against Police Chief Joel Rae and Deputy Chief Bob DelValle, who both ultimately resigned.

In the letter, Kleiber wrote that Bantle reported to city officials issues of sexism, sexual harassment and a hostile work environment toward women at the police department. According to Kleiber, no corrective action was taken.

At the end of July, it became apparent the District Attorney's Office was conducting a criminal investigation into Kleiber related to perjury and testimony Kleiber gave during a 2013 trial. Kleiber has not been charged.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland