Kremmling Police Chief Jamie Lucas has been in limbo for the last month as he waits for of the District Attorney’s investigation to be concluded.
The investigation stems from an alleged animal cruelty incident handled by the Kremmling Police Department in November.
During this time, Chief Lucas has secured a lawyer, Jeffrey Eidsness, with Front Line Law. As of Wednesday, Eidness went on record with a bold statement saying, “The ball is in the Sheriff’s court. Chief Lucas took a polygraph and passed. This issue is political, and it’s time for the Sheriff to be called out. The Sheriff delegated this investigation and authority to Chief Lucas. Then he reneged once the political water got hotter than he could handle. Now, it is time for the Sheriff to submit himself to a polygraph in order to reveal the truth. The investigation of animal cruelty was delegated to Chief Lucas, in it’s entirety, and the DAs investigation appears to be aimed at destroying the chief’s name and quashing the ethical complaint that was lobbied against his office.”
When asked earlier why the Grand County Sheriff’s Office (GSCO) was not investigated, District Attorney Matt Karzen replied in an email, “If you are asking me why the GCSO is or was not investigated – because nobody has presented any evidence that an investigation of GCSO is warranted. Gossip, hearsay from unidentified persons, and uncorroborated claims made by people with motive to lie does not constitute evidence.”
History of the investigation
The incident became public in a press release on December 4, when the Grand County Sheriff’s Office stated, “Grand County Sheriff’s Office, Kremmling Police Department and West Grand School District received a Safe2Tell tip on Nov. 4, 2019 with information on a possible animal cruelty case in Kremmling. The case was initially investigated by Kremmling Police Department; it was later discovered the event occurred outside the town limits of Kremmling, falling under county jurisdiction. The Sheriff’s Office is actively investigating the case.”
Since the release of the statement and the cases was resurrected, Chief Lucas’ position has been questioned. Immediately, he felt the statement was not accurate and indicated Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin always knew the incident, which involved three juveniles who allegedly tortured and killed a cat, occurred outside of town limits at a residence along Highway 40 on October 20, 2019.
To further complicate the issue, a video of the incident was taken and then shown to others at the West Grand High School. Chief Lucas did have jurisdiction at the West Grand High School and could address the disturbance the video caused. But for Chief Lucas, this is a moot point, since he insists he acted with the full blessing of Sheriff Schroetlin who was kept in the loop of all actions taken. And in a letter from Undersheriff Wayne Schafer to the DA’s office requesting the investigation, Schafer acknowledges that Schroeltin knew of the incident. “As standard practice, Sheriff Brett Schroetlin notified Chief Jamie Lucas from the Kremmling Police Department. Chief Lucas told Sheriff Schroetlin that he was aware of the complaint, and asked Sheriff Schroetlin if he could investigate the matter. Sheriff Schroettin stated to Chief Lucas that he could investigate the incident.”
After meeting with the juveniles and the parents, Chief Lucas issued a $500 fine and a citation for disturbing the peace which noted the address
as the location outside of town and appeared to address the actual incident and the video being shown. Later, he amended the citation to the school’s address. Evidently, it is common practice to update citations, but at the municipal court hearing on January 8 for the juvenile who opted to appear in court and didn’t pay his $500 fine, Municipal Judge Ron Carlson said,
“The court has been informed that this is an actual animal abuse case, and this is under investigation by the District Attorney’s Office. He is expected to make a decision in the next two weeks. The court was informed by Winter Park Police Chief Glen Trainor who was asked to independently investigate this. I was also informed by the Chief there were potential jurisdiction issues here, …the court would indicate if the events happened outside of the city limits then the (municipal) court would not have jurisdiction. The court is forced to wait for the results of the District Attorney’s investigation and either receive a written motion by the prosecution to amend, dismiss or move forward to trial.”
Chief Lucas is adamant that he acted in the best interests of the juveniles and secured family involvement for the solution.
“This is community policing. I don’t feel we could have received the same results with charging these juveniles with a felony.”
Search Warrants and Letter from the DA to the Town of Kremmling
At the same time of this press release, it was discovered the 14th Judicial District Attorney Matt Karzen secured the Winter Park/Fraser Police Department (WPFPD) on December 2 to investigate Chief Lucas and determine if he acted outside of his authority and jurisdiction.
Requesting Trainor’s department to investigate Chief Lucas caused many to question how Trainor could reasonably be seen as an unbiased investigator. Serving in the county community for decades, Trainor had obvious connections to the Sheriff’s office and with the Sheriff. He was also reliant on the DA to prosecute his own cases in the future.
On December 17, as the investigation progressed, Trainor, along with deputies from the Sheriff’s department, initiated a search warrant on the Kremmling Police Station. From the search warrant, Trainor secured Chief Lucas’ work cell phone, iPad and laptop. In addition, a Sergeant’s laptop and iPad was also taken.
DA Karzen issued a letter to the Town of Kremmling on December 18 stating the investigation was still ongoing, “However, based on certain evidence revealed during the investigation, the District Attorney’s Office can unfortunately no longer accept any criminal cases from Chief Lucas, nor can we accept any cases that involve him acting in any investigative capacity. This is not a decision I reach easily or casually, but the information revealed in this investigation necessitates this action. I have considered alternatives to this course of action, but I am unable to think of any viable way to mitigate the underlying concerns, which involve the fundamental integrity of the criminal justice process. he would no longer prosecute cases from Chief Lucas or any cases he may be involved with.”
Paid leave and possibly Brady listed
This prompted the Town trustees to have a special meeting on December 20 to place Chief Lucas on paid administrative leave. At the meeting, the town board and residents showed their support of Lucas and questioned how the 14th Judicial District Office could say they would not prosecute the Town’s cases. It was at this meeting that the Brady list was introduced to the public. The Brady list is ultimately, “the kiss of death” for law enforcement officers who the DA’s office does not see as credible or able to put in front of a jury. There is no due process for Chief Lucas or any officer to challenge a DA’s decision to place them on a Brady list. In fact, there are no formal, nationally agreed upon guidelines for what conduct will result in an officer being Brady listed or to what standard the conduct must be proven – if at all.
In a Sky Hi article, DA Karzen states the DA will be placing Chief Lucas on the Brady list. For some, this seems like a premature action since the investigation is not yet complete, but DA Karzen states, “Based on its review of the WPFPD investigative materials, consisting of multiple witness statements from both civilians and law enforcement officers with relevant first-hand information and documentary evidence, the District Attorney’s Office has concluded Chief Lucas was not truthful in statements he has made about what he did, what he didn’t do, and the purpose and intentions of his actions. For this reason, at this time the District Attorney’s Office cannot accept cases that involve Chief Lucas acting in an investigative capacity.”
History of conflict
For Chief Lucas, this does not come as a surprise. He has long known that a conflict is ongoing with himself and DA Karzen and has much of it documented in emails.
“I called out the DA’s office on their procedures, the DA’s integrity and the integrity of his office where there were possible violations of professional conduct for lawyers,” said Chief Lucas.
Shortly after he questioned the actions of the DA’s Office, Chief Lucas believes he and his officers became targets of the DA’s office.
The DA questioned Chief Lucas’ history in South Carolina where he was removed as a magistrate after he was charged with theft of a statue. He had disclosed this incident and explained it to the Town trustees when he was interviewed. He and his wife at the time (now an ex) were involved in a family dispute over a statue and it was reported as stolen.
Ultimately, the Trustees concluded his philosophy of community policing matched what Kremmling needed. Ironically, WPFPD Chief Trainor, who served on a community panel to interview police chief candidates, also recommended the hiring of Chief Lucas.
Beyond himself, a Sergeant with the Kremmling Police Department and a newly hired crime technician were also targets of the DA. The DA sent links to articles about past transgressions involving sexual harassment and indicating the other had been put on the Brady List in Boulder County. Both of these individuals left the Kremmling Police Department after this.
Effects of investigation on the Town of Kremmling and beyond
The Kremmling Police Department now has one trainee, Bryson Hicks. And as if to illustrate how all the players throughout this case are tightly woven together, Hicks began his field training with the WPFPD under Trainor and then worked as a jailer under Sheriff Schroetlin. The Grand County’s Sheriff’s office is now training Officer Hicks and providing an 8 hour shift, seven days a week at $70 hour.
Within the county, the investigation even reached the Board of County Commissioner’s discussions on January 7. County Commissioners were asked to review a petition by Kremmling local, Bridget Ryskowskii to reinstate Chief Jamie Lucas. Commissioner Merrit Linke asked what their role as commissioners were in this other than to gather information. Commissioner Kristen Manguso took the stance the BOCC should advocate for Kremmling in this process. Kremmling is in her District, and it is questionable if the District Attorney can control who Kremmling hires as their police chief, but refusing to prosecutecases from the Chief does negatively impact the Town and its citizens.
One supporter of Chief Lucas, believes she was denied justice before the ultimatum issued by the DA. As a small business owner, she had a possible theft case where an employee had stolen from the business. The investigation of her theft claim was initiated by Chief Lucas at the start of all of this and was not able to be finished now she doesn’t know where her case stands.
Chief Lucas found irony in this situation that he could not complete this investigation after he was able to solve many theft cases since moving to Kremmling, “It was my investigative work on several theft cases that helped other jurisdictions solve many of their own cases. They didn’t tell me then that my investigations weren’t good enough.”
DA Karzen seeks election
In a Steamboat Today article, DA Karzen had announced his intention to run as an unaffiliated candidate for the 14th Judicial District Attorney. He was appointed by Governor Jared Polis when the former DA Brett Barkey resigned. Karzen served in the district attorney’s office for many years under Barkey.
County officials supporting Karzen in his bid for election are Republicans, Sheriff Shroetlin, Undersheriff Schafer, and Commissioner Linke.
Editor’s Note- The investigation is expected to be concluded soon, and the Grand Gazette will cover its findings. Hopefully, then we will have more definitive answers on the DA’s reasoning and position.