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Something missing? 

A phantom file and other irregularities hound El Paso County's sheriff candidates

The race for El Paso County Sheriff promises to be one of the most contentious of the 2014 election.

And for good reason — it's a powerful office. During his tenure, Sheriff Terry Maketa has fought gun laws passed by our state Legislature; overseen wildfire-fighting efforts in the county; convinced voters to pass a tax increase and extend term limits for his office, worked with the federal government on immigration enforcement; and transformed the jail.

Currently, two people are running to replace the term-limited Maketa: Bill Elder and Jim Reid, though it should be noted that both former El Paso County Sheriff John Anderson and El Paso County Undersheriff Paula Presley haven't ruled out campaigns.

The Independent opted to look into the backgrounds of both Reid and Elder to provide voters with a better understanding of the candidates. Some of the information we garnered, particularly in regard to Elder, raises more questions than it answers, but we will keep you updated as information becomes available that could shed more light on both of their stories.

Best in show

At the Central Committee meeting for El Paso County Republicans on Jan. 18, dozens of candidates for state and local office were introduced. But Bill Elder was arguably the star of the show.

The sheriff's candidate earned applause, hoots and hollers for his 90-second speech. Fans crowded the aisles hoisting his campaign signs.

"I can tell you about myself, but it's far more impressive for you to learn without my help," he told the crowd. "Ask [4th Judicial] District Attorney Dan May; ask [Monument Police] Chief [Jacob] Shirk or [Fountain Police] Chief Todd Evans. Ask [Colorado Springs Police Chief] Pete Carey. Ask [former] Fire Chief Rich Brown. Ask one of the over 800 members of the Police Protective Association why these people support me, and they'll tell you it's because real police experience matters."

Elder, 56, does appear to have the edge when it comes to support from law enforcement personnel. Perhaps that's because he worked the front lines of policing, while Jim Reid, who also long served in the county sheriff's office, specialized in handling emergencies like fires (see "Meeting expectations").

Elder was hired in 1979, and over nearly 20 years served as dispatcher, deputy, sergeant and lieutenant under four different sheriffs. Along with patrol, he earned experience in the Investigations Division, the Communications Center, the Civil Division, the Fugitive Division, and the Metro Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence Division. He won awards, attended specialized schools to further his skills and served on boards and committees related to the job.

Elder, who says he will work on regional cooperation and inter-agency relations if elected, also touts more than 14 years of experience running small businesses. He currently serves as deputy chief of the Fountain Police Department, where he is a contract employee.

A 'missing' file

Obviously, Elder's record has impressed many. But what superiors thought of him at the time of his El Paso County employment is largely undocumented.

The county purged his personnel file, in accordance with its records retention schedule, a decade after he left the department. The sheriff's office does keep internal affairs files, which record investigations into possible violations by employees, but Sheriff Terry Maketa says Elder's went missing from a locked room last spring.

Maketa, who has not endorsed either Elder or Reid, explains that Lt. Cheryl Peck entered the room in April and noticed a file was sticking up in a drawer, which was unusual. The file was marked with Elder's name, and it was empty. Maketa explains that IA files are only made when there's something to put in them.

An internal investigation ensued and is still underway. Maketa says employees with access to the room were interviewed, and most were given tests in which a computer measures the tone of a person's voice in an effort to verify the truthfulness of his or her statements. When the tests were complete, employees were brought in to discuss the results. Deputy Charles Kull and Sgt. Emory "Ray" Gerhart, however, resigned on the spot, on Dec. 9, before their results could be discussed, Maketa says. Both are listed on elder4sheriff.com as supporters.

Gerhart's resignation letter is brief, saying that he's notifying the department of his "immediate resignation" and that he's enjoyed working with "such fine people over the last 18 years." Kull's is longer, saying he is resigning immediately "[d]ue to circumstances beyond my control."

Shimon Kohn, an attorney representing Gerhart, says Gerhart never had access to IA files. He goes on to say, "[Gerhart] categorically, without question, denies any type of misconduct or wrongdoing. He was actually forced out over a pattern of conduct — a continuing pattern of conduct — of harassment and other issues that were directly linked to the sheriff and the chain of command under the sheriff. "

Maketa denies harassing anyone and says that while a few employees have recently resigned, he hasn't fired anyone.

Kull could not be reached immediately for comment.

Maketa says he can't discuss the particulars of an open investigation, but no one has been charged in relation to a "missing" file. He will say he's made a formal request for assistance to a state-run agency because he's concerned about potential conflicts of interest with the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office, which he declines to further explain.

However, some conflicts seem obvious. Dan May has already expressed support for Elder. And Gerhart's wife, Shannon, who is listed on elder4sheriff.com as a supporter, is the chief deputy district attorney.

Elder says there's more to the story. His attorney issued the following statement from Elder: "Because I have been told there is an ongoing federal investigation concerning the El Paso County Sheriff's Office's handling of my employment records, I am limited as to what I can say about the alleged missing employment file. I can say, however, that I have never been the subject of an internal affairs investigation by the El Paso County Sherriff's [sic] Office. I am proud of my time with the Sherriff's [sic] Office and look forward to the time when I can share more about this subject."

The Elder campaign did not provide the Indy with evidence of the "federal investigation," and Maketa says, "I have no idea what they're talking about." Maketa says he did have a sergeant come to him recently, saying he'd been called by an FBI agent in regard to inappropriate actions in the department. The sergeant, Maketa says, told him he "didn't know what [the FBI agent] was talking about."

The Independent asked the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado to comment but was told that, per policy, the office would not confirm or deny existence of an investigation.

The Independent also asked several others who might have knowledge of an IA file to comment on the situation.

Todd Evans, the Fountain police chief (and a past candidate for sheriff), tells the Independent that when Elder was hired in Fountain, his office was allowed to review employment files Elder had at the sheriff's office. He says Elder did still have a personnel file, which contained positive reviews. As for an IA file, Evans says, "There wasn't an IA file back in 2010. I know there wasn't, because I was told there wasn't one."

Ken Moore, who had access to IA files in the late '90s as a sergeant and a lieutenant in the sheriff's office, says he does not recall Elder having an IA file, but he cannot rule it out. Moore says a "log book" should have kept track of all IA investigations for the year, but Maketa says those logs are no longer around. He says the sheriff's office keeps current IA files electronically, a system they switched to around the time Elder left.

Former Sheriff John Anderson, who was in office during Elder's final years of employment, said he felt uncomfortable providing much information about the issue, given his own possible candidacy for sheriff in 2014. But he would say that while he never personally saw Elder's IA file, he remembered three allegations involving Elder, including two described below, and a third, which he says via email, was for "an allegation of insubordination." (It's not clear whether that is the same insubordination finding described below.)

"I cannot answer which, if any, of the allegations of misconduct were documented in his IA File, or his Personnel File, or if they were documented at all," he writes via email.

Peck, who has led the Internal Affairs section for three years, says she did see Elder's IA file with "several pieces of paper in there" when she was relocating file cabinets. She says she did not read the contents of the file, but says "it was about an inch thick."

Sgt. Scott Deno, who has worked in IA for a year and a half, says he also saw the file during the move. Deno says he didn't look at its contents, but notes it was "approximately an inch of thickness," and says, "I did put that into the drawer."

Asked about the two IA employees who say they saw his file, Elder said, "Flat out that is a lie ... I am telling you on a stack of Bibles I have never, never been the subject of an internal affairs investigation."

Inside a file

Maketa says the sheriff's office doesn't keep multiple copies of IA files, and thus it's impossible to ascertain everything that could have been in Elder's, assuming it existed. But upon discovering the "missing" file, the sheriff's office did begin to re-create Elder's file as best it could.

The department found a "letter of reprimand" in a box, dated April 12, 1985, signed by then-Undersheriff Wallace Hague, which stated that then-Detective Elder had been found to be insubordinate to his superior, Lt. Jere Joiner. It stated that "[f]urther display of this type of conduct by you will result in severe disciplinary action." Elder admits to the insubordination and says he acted inappropriately. But he argues that the issue did not result in an internal affairs investigation.

"[The sheriff's office is] capable of finding minute detailed documents on my past," he said, "... but they can't find a document that supposedly I was the target of an internal affairs investigation."

There were other documents as well. At times, more than one employee will be interviewed or investigated in relation to an alleged violation. Thus, more than one employee's IA file will contain the information and documentation of an investigation. Two incidents were found in this way that involved Elder. Maketa says they would have appeared in Elder's IA file; Elder argues they did not.

The first, occurring in 1986, concerned a Deputy Mike Hutchinson, who was found to have taken home a rifle scope and to have drunk some of the beers he seized from a 14-year-old. The scope, which was never checked in to evidence, was apparently given to then-Deputy Elder, who was working with Hutchinson at the time, by an informant, because the item was thought to be stolen. However, further investigation yielded no leads, meaning the scope should have been returned to its owner.

Unfortunately, the man from whom it was obtained had moved and couldn't be found. So, the scope languished on a desk before Hutchinson took it home, apparently to be used with his young sons' pellet guns.

Interviews from the internal investigation show a lack of clarity on who should have been responsible for the scope, or whether it was handled correctly. Elder was insistent in his interview that he would never condone taking equipment home, and there's no indication he was disciplined. He told the Independent recently that he does not remember being disciplined, and barely recalls the incident at all.

The other allegation, however, is more serious. An investigation from May 1998 shows that under the supervision and direction of then-Lt. Elder, members of the Metro Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence Division were given overtime pay and comp time in accordance with Colorado Springs Police Department rules, not sheriff's office rules. Metro VNI is a multi-jurisdictional task force under the direction of CSPD.

The alleged misallocation was estimated to result in overpayments totalling $2,220.63 in 1997, and a cursory audit of 1994 through 1996 showed "a similar pattern of abuse."

An official summary of the investigation explains that a Lt. Washburn was transferred to Metro VNI on March 1, 1998, following Elder's departure. She ordered an audit of time cards, and found discrepancies in the documentation of comp time and overtime. An IA investigation was ordered.

Sgt. Bill Claspell, who worked under Elder, stated in the investigation that he kept time in the manner Elder ordered, noting that when he questioned Elder about the change in procedure, he was told it was to be on the same track as CSPD. An audit also showed that a previous supervisor had kept time according to sheriff's policy, and that time-keeping procedures only changed a few months after Elder took over. Furthermore, the investigation summary states in part: "During an interview with Elder, he stated he instructed Claspell to keep time records concerning overtime and comp time in the same manner as CSPD. Elder felt it was more consistent and caused less confusion for CSPD supervisor's [sic] who oversee EPSO employee's [sic]. Elder estimated that this deviation may have cost the Sheriff's Office twenty hours of time and feels it was worth that to be consistent."

Anderson, who was sheriff at the time, says both Elder and an implicated sergeant quit around the time of the investigation.

"Since both employees left the organization under their own volition, and were no longer within our administrative reach, and since the overspending was believed administrative in nature, resulting from poor financial decision making, it was believed the employee actions did not cross the threshold of criminal behavior," Anderson wrote in an email to the Independent. "The case was deemed an internal matter and closed. It was not until January of 2014 when I learned the overspending had actually occurred over several fiscal periods, which resulted in a higher over-expenditure than we were aware of at the time."

Elder, however, maintains that he did nothing wrong, and says he wasn't given a true opportunity to explain himself.

"My interview with this was over the phone, and I was asked a couple of questions," he says. "I had no idea that my questions were a part of an Internal Affairs investigation."

He goes on to describe, in detail, a complicated pay system involving regulations, a Memorandum of Understanding with the Police Department, and layers of oversight. He says he believes he calculated hours correctly. He denies saying he calculated hours as he did in order to be more fair or to simplify the process. "Employees assigned to Metro Narcotics worked under the guidelines of CSPD," he says.

He also notes — and documents and Anderson confirm — that he never benefited from the arrangement, because he was not eligible to receive overtime pay or comp time.

'We could not survive'

Elder does admit to some mistakes in his past.

In 1994, Elder and his then-wife Donna filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. At the time, their assets were listed as $41,797 and their liabilities as $35,000. Elder says of the bankruptcy:

"When I was a patrol sergeant, we had access to make a lot of overtime ... Well, I got promoted to lieutenant in, I think 1980, and you switch to being an exempt employee when you become a staff officer, so you can't work overtime ... And because I was a patrol shift commander, on my days on, I had coverage 24 hours a day. So I couldn't have a part-time job ... I just had no way to make money.

"And we got to this point where we were doing nothing but chasing debt ... We sold our house. We had moved to a rental home. I sold both of our cars, and we were driving [Donna's] mom's car, one of her mom's spare cars. I mean, we would go on weekends and do garage sales and buy junk at garage sales to sell to used furniture dealers to try to make a couple extra bucks. And it got to the point where we could not survive."

Elder says the bankruptcy was a fresh start, and he's never missed a payment since. He notes that he's managed large budgets more recently, in his private businesses and for the Fountain PD.

"I kept that [bankruptcy] file," he says. "That file means something to me. That's the reminder to me of a significant emotional event."

Elder currently owns a home valued at $286,270 in the northeast section of the city. He owns a second home worth $215,288 in the same area with his adult son, Jarrod Elder.

He's owned several businesses over the years, including Pinnacle Investigations, LLC, a private investigations company that was sold when the main customer moved out of state; Crosspointe Investments, LLC, a company established to hold rental properties that Elder no longer owns (and that's long been delinquent in reporting with the Secretary of State's Office); and WDE, Inc., a real estate sales and property management business. Elder is still in the real estate business. WDE is active and Elder says he manages about 50 properties under it, though he's offloaded many duties since announcing his run for office. He says he will give up the business if elected.

Elder, who has two grown sons, has been divorced twice. He married Catherine Eckelberg in 1979, but divorced in 1981. He remarried in 1982, to Donna Lea Boone. The two divorced in 2008, during which time Elder sought a temporary protection order; he says he did so because she would not leave him alone.

"It was a very difficult thing for me," he says. "It literally tore my heart out."

Elder is currently engaged to Joy Mitchell, a victim's advocate at the DA's office.

Elder was raised in Colorado Springs, where he went to Palmer High School, Pikes Peak Community College (El Paso County Community College at the time) and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. He holds a Colorado Real Estate License.

stanley@csindy.com

  • A phantom file and other irregularities hound El Paso County's sheriff candidates

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