by Marissa Lorenz
A search warrant was served on the Town of Kremmling for the Kremmling Police Department offices on Tuesday, December 17. The warrant was requested and executed by the Fraser-Winter Park Police Department with Grand County Sheriff’s officers also present for the search. Executing officials met with representatives at the Kremmling Town Hall prior to conducting the search around 10:30-11:00 AM.
The search appears to be part of an investigation into the Kremmling Police Department or Kremmling Police Chief, at the request of the District Attorney’s Office, and as the result of a disagreement over police investigative discretion and jurisdiction, following a report of potential animal cruelty through the Colorado Safe2Tell hotline.
Safe2Tell is a number monitored by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and advertised in schools and to youth as “a safe and confidential” method to report potential wrong-doing. Kremmling Police Department, West Grand School District, and the Grand County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO) were notified in the first few days of November that a video of alleged animal abuse had been shown at the West Grand High School in Kremmling. Kremmling Police Chief Jaime Lucas was the only one to respond to the school, discovering that the original incident had taken place outside of Town limits, while the video showing was within Kremmling.
Lucas maintains that, upon discovery of the incident location, he communicated with Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin, who agreed to Lucas continuing the investigation as he had already been in contact
with the school, students, and parents of students involved in the alleged incident. After speaking with the three implicated juveniles and their parents, Lucas determined to charge them with Disturbing the Peace, specifically
for showing the video at school. He indicated that the students had made statements admitting to the incident and demonstrating remorse, attesting that the video had already been destroyed. Parents expressed their involvement and that they would follow up with consequences at home, “holding them accountable at a teachable moment,” relays Lucas.
“I didn’t think we could accomplish the same thing by pursuing felony charges.” He says that he communicated with Schroetlin his plan to charge and fine the students in Kremmling Municipal Court, and was met with encouragement and approval from the Sheriff. Lucas declared a willingness to share those communications, but no longer had access to either his Town-assigned phone or other communication devices, following the search.
Complaint/Summons were written to the students for Disturbing the Peace on November 5, just days after the Safe2Tell report. A month later, on December 4, the GCSO posted a press release to Facebook, indicating they had received the Safe2Tell report and were investigating the incident. A media report on the incident, also published on December 4, indicated that the Fraser-Winter Park Police Department was also involved to provide “unbiased third-party” investigation. It has since been clarified that the District Attorney’s office requested that Fraser-Winter Park PD investigate Kremmling Police Department and/or the Kremmling Police Chief Lucas for their handling of this case outside of the regular Kremmling jurisdiction.
The press release was put out a week after charges were filed in the widely-publicized animal cruelty case in Grand Lake, where a horse was dragged by its halter tied to the bumper of a pickup truck.
Specific questions as to why the GCSO did not respond to the report earlier, why the GCSO is not also being investigated if the Sheriff approved Lucas’ actions, why the GCSO is a party to the ongoing investigation when their earlier actions have not been explained have gone unanswered by the GCSO or by Matt Karzen, District Attorney to the 14th Judicial District, including Grand, Moffat and Routt Counties. Karzen also declined to comment on procedural questions as to when jurisdiction can be granted to another agency, what ability one law enforcement agency has to oversee and make judgment on the outcome of a case for which they’ve released investigative jurisdiction, and when district attorneys can request investigation of law enforcement agencies. He indicated that he could not discuss matters “clearly in connection with an ongoing case,” but that he would discuss it once the investigation has been finalized.
In search of greater understanding, this reporter attempted to gain a copy of the search warrant for the Kremmling Police Department from the Grand County Court and was told that the warrant was sealed. It was not indicated at that time, but later discovered, that the Request for Sealing a Search Warrant and the Order to Seal the Search Warrant should be publicly available, describing the reasons for sealing the warrant. Glen Trainor, Chief of Fraser-Winter Park Police Department, stated that he could say “absolutely nothing, as it was an active investigation,” and that he would not “even verify whether they had conducted a search or not.”
Bruce Brown, District Attorney for Colorado’s 5th Judicial District, encompassing Summit, Clear Creek, Eagle, and Lake Counties, did take time to discuss jurisdictional procedure. He explained that agencies could have their own policies about jurisdiction but that there was “nothing unlawful” about jurisdictional arrangements that would see one agency taking on investigation of a case that happened very near their defined jurisdiction, a case in which they had been the initial responding agency, or a case in which elements took place in different jurisdictions, but that “courtesy communication” between agencies would be expected. He indicated that, in prosecuting cases, “dual jurisdiction” among courts could occur where a municipal court worked in tandem with a higher state court (at the county or district court level), in order to avoid concerns of double jeopardy. When asked directly what he would do if his office would like prosecutorial control over a case being handled in a municipal jurisdiction, Brown stated that he would contact either the investigative officer or town prosecutor, asking permission to dismiss any other charges so they could pursue the case at the level of the DA, working in collaboration. On the commonality of serving a search warrant on a police department, he said, “Any time a search warrant is executed within the four walls of a police department it is extraordinary and very rare.” Karzen did later confirm that the District Attorney for the 14th had never contacted Lucas to discuss or negotiate jurisdictional control over the case,
“primarily because Lucas never told us anything about it, even though it involved a felony aggravated animal cruelty outside his jurisdiction.”
Lucas asserts Lucas asserts that he had told Sheriff Schroetlin, by text, that if the DA wanted to take over the case, they could file for a change of venue within the municipal court. He also claims that he would drop his municipal charges against the juveniles if charges were going to be pursued in the County or District courts. He feels strongly that he made an agreement with the students and parents about what the consequences for the incident would be, and he will not agree to other actions himself.
Lucas further believes that this particular incident is only the impetus for the local DA’s office to act on what have been escalating tensions between the agencies. “I feel like I’m being targeted,” he says. “I don’t think this would happen to anybody else who had done the same thing. Police discretion in investigation is important and normal.” He explains that only domestic violence and violation of a protection order require mandatory arrest in Colorado and that even how to deal with impaired drivers is handled with officer discretion on a daily basis.
Lucas has since been informed, through the Town that, while he is being investigated, the District Attorney will no longer prosecute cases brought by Lucas and that other officers of the Kremmling Police Department cannot “go to him for guidance” in their cases. Lucas is an employee of the Town of Kremmling and is not under the direct supervision or oversight of the District Attorney’s Office and it is, as yet, unverified as to whether this is a mandate that the DA’s office can place on the Town and its employees. Dan Stoltman, Kremmling Town Manager, could only state that “We are aware of the investigation and are actively reaching out for more information. We won’t really know until it’s done. And we’ll have to make any decisions then.”
**On behalf of this reporter and the Grand Gazette, we are not taking any stance on how the Safe2Tell report has been handled thus far or the outcome of any cases involving potential animal cruelty or juvenile misbehavior. Our interest remains on procedure and the actions of those with authority and responsibility to take action for or make judgment on the enforcement of the law, and the relevant availability of information to the public.
by Marissa Lorenz