Investigation clears law enforcement officials of wrongdoing
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — An independent investigation by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office has determined several public officials did not commit any crimes.
The report can be found here.
The investigation, which was prompted by a complaint from former Steamboat Springs Police Department officer Kristin Bantle, was looking into conduct by Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins, District Attorney Brett Barkey and District Attorney’s Office investigator Doug Winters.
Bantle in a written statement Wednesday called the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office ruling “arbitrary and capricious.”
“It appears the protectionism I witnessed during my career in law enforcement, that shielded corrupt and violent police officers, extends into the Colorado judicial system,” Bantle said.
Bantle was charged in July 2015 with attempting to influence a public servant by lying to Wiggins about past drug use when she was applying for a job. She was subsequently fired from the police department.
“Justice was done,” one juror said after the trial. “I personally decided there was no substance to the charges.”
The felony charge against Bantle was the result of an investigation by the District Attorney’s Office that initially was looking into whether Bantle had used cocaine. That information came to light after Bantle applied for a job with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office in 2013.
Despite the possibility that Bantle could file a lawsuit against the sheriff for disclosing confidential information, Wiggins leaked the information about Bantle’s drug use to the District Attorney’s Office during the summer of 2015.
The District Attorney’s Office then obtained a search warrant to get the confidential, pre-employment information from the Sheriff’s Office, which is when Bantle contended District Attorney’s Office investigator Doug Winters committed perjury by supplying false statements in the search warrant affidavit that establishes probable cause.
Bantle also accused Wiggins of being a conspirator.
The probable cause for the search warrant prepared by Winters was related to the past drug use.
The CBI and Mesa County DA’s Office investigation looked at claims of conspiracy, first-degree official misconduct and embezzlement of public property related to Wiggins.
When reviewing the case, Mesa County Assistant District Attorney Richard Tuttle examined 416 pages of reports, documents and transcripts and interviewed Bantle.
“First, I see no compelling legal authority to support the claim that Sheriff Wiggins committed any of these crimes,” Tuttle wrote in a letter that was dated Friday and addressed to Bantle. “To the extent that he disseminated information, directly or indirectly, pertaining to your lying or lying by omission during your application process for a position with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office, I am not convinced that same is clearly against the law.”
Wiggins has said he hoped the misconduct investigation would reveal the truth.
“Having patience is not always easy to maintain, especially when your character and integrity are under constant attack,” Wiggins said Wednesday. “The 416-page CBI investigation and review by a completely unassociated district attorney’s office has revealed the truth of this matter.”
Tuttle also reviewed claims of conspiracy, malicious prosecution and obstruction of justice against Barkey.
“District attorneys in Colorado are vested with a broad amount of discretion,” Tuttle wrote. “There are a few restrictions on their ability to investigate criminal matters and file criminal cases. One of the limitations is that prosecutors must refrain from prosecuting a charge that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause. In this case, there was probable cause to believe that you lied during the application process with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office. You have admitted that you withheld information about your prior drug use and then corrected the lie or lie by omission one day later. Even a short-lived lie is still a lie.”
Bantle said Wednesday she still thinks Barkey ignored evidence when prosecuting her.
“I still contend that Brett Barkey and his agents violated my rights and committed criminal acts in the process,” Bantle said.
Barkey released a statement Wednesday.
“Sadly, Ms. Bantle continues in her efforts to deflect attention from her own misconduct by raising spurious claims against others, including my office,” Barkey said. “Those allegations were investigated by an independent agency, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, then reviewed by an independent DA’s office and again determined to be baseless.”
Investigator Winters was investigated for claims of conspiracy, felony perjury and official misconduct.
Bantle’s complaints against Winters stemmed from the language Winters used in an affidavit for a search warrant to obtain records from the Sheriff’s Office that included questionnaires Bantle filled out that related to past drug use.
In the search warrant affidavit, Winters wrote, “I am also under the impression that the illegal drug use by Bantle, more specifically, cocaine use, occurred within the last couple of years and may have occurred at Bantle’s place of residency in Routt County, Colorado.”
Tuttle determined the words, “under the impression,” were not a lie nor deceit.
“I will agree that using ‘under the impression’ language in a search warrant is poor form and substandard — even sloppy,” Tuttle wrote.
He said his conclusions are independent of any civil claims Bantle was pursuing.
Bantle still has a lawsuit pending against the Sheriff’s Office and Wiggins.
That lawsuit was filed in May 2016.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.