Kremmling police chief on paid administrative leave
DA’s office puts Chief Jamie Lucas on Brady list
Elected officials put Kremmling Police Chief Jamie Lucas on paid administrative leave Friday after the 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office essentially blacklisted the chief this week.
During a special meeting Friday, Kremmling Town Council was clear its decision to pull Lucas off the job for the time being doesn’t reflect a lack of faith in him or his police work. Rather, council members said the town would fight the DA’s decision, to which almost a dozen people gathered at town hall offered a round of applause.
“I respect the hard decision that (town council) had to make,” Lucas said afterward. “Do I agree with it? No. I think that a DA’s office that can dictate how a community polices itself and offers services to their community members is being stomped on today and they have not allowed this community to be a community.”
The spat between the DA’s office and Kremmling police chief stems from Lucas’ alleged mishandling of a report of animal abuse, in which three juveniles were accused of mutilating a feral cat before shooting the cat on a property outside town limits in October.
The alleged abuse was reportedly caught on a video that made rounds at West Grand High School before a tipster alerted authorities on Nov. 4. Chief Lucas previously said he handled the animal abuse investigation by charging the juveniles involved with disturbing the peace and fining them $500 through Kremmling’s municipal court system.
A letter dated Nov. 25 from Grand County Undersheriff Wayne Schafer to District Attorney Matt Karzen details how the investigation into Chief Lucas’ actions began. In the letter, Schafer says that Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin told Lucas he could investigate the report of animal abuse before describing some concerns about how Lucas handled the case.
“The first being that Chief Lucas knowingly initiating an official prosecution proceeding in municipal court in which there is no jurisdiction to do so,” Schafer wrote. “In doing this, Chief Lucas subverted the lawful legal process the (sic) would have involved not only our Office, but the District Attorney’s Office and Grand County Courts as well.”
The letter was obtained by the Sky-Hi News through an open records request at Kremmling Town Hall that was approved by Chief Lucas on Friday and again later in the day via the district attorney’s office. Additionally, Lucas elected to hold town council’s proceedings in public rather than a private, executive session, which he could have opted to do.
In his letter to the district attorney, Schafer expressed fears that any attempts to “correct the mistakes that were made during Chief Lucas’ investigation” could constitute double jeopardy for the juveniles, who have already agreed to pay the fine prior to their municipal court date in January.
In response to Shafer’s concerns, the district attorney requested the Fraser Winter Park Police Department conduct an independent investigation into how Chief Lucas came to cite the juveniles into municipal court “for what appears to be a felony animal cruelty incident that occurred outside KPD’s jurisdiction.”
On Friday, Lucas’ supporters wondered why the DA’s office didn’t request an agency outside Grand County conduct the investigation into Lucas, who himself pointed out that he’s spearheaded other successful investigations spanning multiple jurisdictions.
While some questions have come up over the sheriff’s office giving Lucas permission to take the lead on the animal abuse investigation, Karzen explained that the question isn’t whether Lucas had permission, but what information he gave the sheriff’s office before taking the case into municipal court.
“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,” Karzen wrote in a letter to Kremmling Town Manager Dan Stoltman this week.
In the letter, Karzen said no decision regarding the prosecution of Chief Lucas has or could be made at this time. However, he added that, “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.”
According to Stoltman, Kremmling’s municipal court cases won’t be affected by the DA’s refusal to accept Lucas’ police work, but higher level offenses will not be adjudicated if Lucas has anything to do with the case.
That leaves the town in a tough position because, despite council’s reluctance to remove the chief, knowing his criminal cases won’t be prosecuted could deprive potential victims of any chance they might have of seeing justice. And if cases are not being adjudicated, those victims could win lawsuits against the town, council members said.
In their remarks, residents at Friday’s special meeting praised Chief Lucas and what he’s done for the community since taking the job in summer 2018. They also accused the DA’s and sheriff’s offices of having it out for Lucas and the Kremmling Police Department before Lucas ever came on board.
However, in his letter to town officials, Karzen said all other KPD officers remain “in good standing as far as the DA’s office is concerned,” and Karzen even encouraged those officers to reach out to the district attorney’s office for legal advice when needed.
Councilman Leo Pesch cast the lone vote against putting Lucas on paid administrative leave on Friday. Also, council members were unanimous in a second vote to appeal a decision from the town’s insurance provider regarding the DA’s refusal to accept cases handled by Chief Lucas. Stoltman declined to go into detail about what role the town’s insurance provider has to play in this dispute.
While none of the correspondence obtained by the Sky-Hi News specifically mentions the “Brady list,” Karzen confirmed over the phone that he is putting Lucas on the his office’s Brady list.
Getting Brady listed has been likened to “a scarlet letter” for police officers in Colorado after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1963 that prosecutors are required to disclose any exculpatory evidence to the defense, including information about witnesses’ credibility.
The Times-Call reported in 2018 that Colorado expanded on the Brady ruling by requiring state prosecutors to be even more forthcoming with defense teams, including disclosing officers who have histories of untruthfulness or misconduct.
According to the Times-Call, getting Brady listed can be a career-ender for law enforcement in Colorado because prosecutors are often reluctant to put these officers on the stand during jury trials knowing their histories could be called into question.
This is not the first time Lucas has faced disciplinary action as a public official. In January 2008, Lucas was arrested in Lexington County, South Carolina, on a petty theft charge after he allegedly took a statue from a home with two other people.
The charges were later dropped, but Lucas was reprimanded and resigned his position as a Lexington County magistrate.
According to an opinion from State of South Carolina: “In this judicial disciplinary matter, (Lucas) and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) have entered into an Agreement … In the agreement, (Lucas) admits misconduct and consents to a public reprimand. (He) has also resigned his position and has agreed never to seek nor accept a judicial office in South Carolina without the express written permission of this Court after written notice to ODC. We accept the agreement and publicly reprimand (Lucas), the most severe sanction we are able to impose under these circumstances.”
KPD is not a large department, but it won’t go empty with the chief on leave.
Town Manager Dan Stoltman said Kremmling currently has three officers including Lucas. Because one is new, the other two KPD officers are currently functioning as a single unit.
In addition to the two KPD officers, the sheriff’s office will continue handling some law enforcement responsibilities in Kremmling, said Lt. Dan Mayer, spokesman for the sheriff’s office. He said urgent and emergency calls in town will continue to see a response from the sheriff’s office when a KPD officer is not on duty.
“If they need a cop, we’re going to send one,” Mayer said. “If it’s something that’s not urgent or more routine, we will either forward that to a Kremmling officer or handle it on a discretionary basis.”
A ROOM FULL OF SUPPORT
Almost a dozen residents attended Friday’s special meeting even though the agenda called for most of it to be conducted behind closed doors.
Council adjusted the agenda after Lucas agreed to a public proceeding, and there was no shortage of support for the chief, either in the audience or among town council members.
“This just feels so, (it’s) putting Kremmling over a barrel,” said Grand County Commissioner Kris Manguso, who was among the supporters. “Chief or no chief, it doesn’t matter. This is against the town. They are attacking Kremmling as a town and as a community.”
After the votes were cast, Lucas and his wife were visibly shaken by town council’s decision.
Lucas said he felt “targeted” by the DA’s office, and he doesn’t know where he goes from here other than he’ll have to seek legal advice as he looks to challenge this. As for everyone who made a point to support Lucas on Friday, he was grateful for their presence.
“It feels wonderful,” he said of having a room full of support. “When I came here to begin the police chief’s position, that was what I wanted to reach out to, is the community, and get the support of the community working with the police department so that we can collectively resolve issues that come up … It’s so easy to write a ticket and move on, but to involve the community, to let them be a partner in assisting that resolution, so that the community feels safe, they feel trusted and they feel that whatever situation (they) maybe involved in, everyone is going to get a fair shake.”
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