Former Steamboat police officer exonerated |

Former Steamboat police officer exonerated

Former Steamboat Springs police officer Kristin Bantle hugs her attorney Matt Tjosvold after being found not guilty Thursday of felony attempt to influence a public servant.
Matt Stensland

— It took fewer than two hours Thursday for a jury to find former Steamboat Springs police officer Kristin Bantle not guilty of felony attempt to influence a public servant.

After the verdict was read, Bantle smiled and later hugged friends and family members.

“Thank you to everyone in the community for all the support,” Bantle said as she left the courthouse.

Bantle also thanked her attorney, Matt Tjosvold.

“Kristin Bantle thanks the jury for their thoughtful and considered deliberation,” Tjosvold said.

Gary Nelson was among the 12 jurors who listened to two days of testimony.

“Justice was done,” Nelson said. “I personally decided there was no substance to the charges.”

Bantle had been accused of lying about her past drug use when she applied for a job at the Routt County Sheriff’s Office in 2013. After the allegations surfaced this summer, Bantle was fired from the Steamboat Springs Police Department, where she had worked since 2011

In a news release, District Attorney Brett Barkey said he respected the jury’s decision.

“As this judicial district’s chief law enforcement officer, I believe that, for this community to have faith in its criminal justice system, the integrity of every officer must be beyond reproach,” Barkey said. “With that in mind, I remain greatly disturbed by Ms. Bantle’s admission in her trial testimony that she lied to a criminal investigator.”

The prosecution’s case was anchored by two questionnaires Bantle completed while applying for employment as a deputy in 2013.

Bantle admitted she withheld some information about previous drug use but offered little explanation as to why. The prosecution also showed jurors an interview with a district attorney’s office investigator in which Bantle said she could not recall having used cocaine while employed as a Steamboat Springs police officer.

Some members of the community thought the charge against Bantle was retaliation for her having voiced concerns about the work atmosphere and leadership at the Steamboat police department.

“The defendant made the mistake to use drugs in the first place, made the mistake to lie about it and then blames the sheriff for all of it,” Barkey said during his closing arguments.

During the trial, Tjosvold questioned the motives of Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins.

Two years after Wiggins learned about Bantle’s drug use, he leaked some of the information to Interim Steamboat Springs Police Chief Jerry DeLong. Wiggins said he waited until that time, because he was told he could have been sued had he disclosed Bantle’s confidential pre-employment information. Wiggins said he was prompted to finally disclose the information due to Bantle’s conduct while working in Steamboat’s schools as a school resource officer.

After the trial, Wiggins said he was initially excited to hire Bantle but became genuinely concerned about her ability to be a peace officer because of the drug use.

“I needed to inform the Steamboat Springs Police Department of the conduct,” Wiggins said. “I had to get that burden off my shoulder and into the hands of her employer.”

It was ultimately Barkey’s decision to charge Bantle.

“I don’t say that I disagree,” Wiggins said. “I was never questioned as to whether or not I wanted to pursue any criminal charges. If that question would have been asked, I would have said ‘no.’ But I understand Brett’s decision to prosecute a person who has been employed as a peace officer and who violated the public’s trust in this manner. I had no interest of seeing any criminal investigation into the matter.”

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

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