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Michelle Knopp surveys the damage caused by deputies during an April raid.

Even as the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office blasted  more than a dozen canisters of tear gas inside a rural El Paso County home on April 28 in pursuit of an accused felon, the alleged criminal lurked inside the house the whole time and later declared himself “the hide and seek champion” in a Facebook message.

That man, Harley Moore, 28, was arrested in August on charges of burglary, theft and criminal trespass.

But now, his parents also face charges. The District Attorney’s Office has accused them of being accessories to a crime (harboring a wanted person) and attempting to influence a public servant because, in part, his mom spoke with the Indy (“Search and destroy,” June 2, 2021).

Legal experts call the latter charge “out of line” at best and “horseshit” at worst, with one noting the criminal statute for attempted influence requires proof someone uses deceit or “threat of violence or economic reprisal” in persuading a public servant to make a decision or take an action.

Harley Moore

Harley Moore

The case revolves around the April raid during which dozens of sheriff’s deputies surrounded Michelle Knopp’s rural compound located 30 miles east of Colorado Springs where her husband, Alan, also lives. Deputies stormed the house, launched tear gas cannisters inside, broke windows and a patio door and deployed a robot that damaged the interior. But they didn’t find Moore, though he was hiding inside.

That day, Michelle Knopp told the Indy, a sheriff’s deputy informed her, “It’s going to get worse if you don’t cooperate.”

Knopp was quoted in the article calling the deputies “jack booted thugs” and “lawless rogue cowboys” — words the DA’s Office now alleges were intended to “sway or influence the EPSO decision making” in the case of her son and to gain “public sorrow” for her experience, according to a deputy’s arrest affidavit, approved by a judge whose signature is unreadable.

Michelle Knopp declined to comment about the charges through her mother, and Alan Knopp also declined. The Sheriff’s Office didn’t respond to a request for comment, and the DA’s Office wouldn’t comment.

Deputies described Moore in a search warrant affidavit for the April search, the third in as many months, as being involved in a “criminal enterprise.”

The first two searches took place on Feb. 10 and 18. Deputies were searching for stolen merchandise. Moore and Alan Knopp were placed in handcuffs on Feb. 18 but not arrested. Deputies took numerous guns belonging to Alan Knopp.

At about 1 p.m. on April 28, an army of deputies, including the Tactical Support Unit (TSU), showed up at the Knopp home and brought with them a BEAR (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response) vehicle and the robot. Sheriff’s spokesperson Jackie Reed previously said the raid was based on a risk assessment.

The officers were looking for Moore, who the search warrant affidavit says sometimes stayed at the Knopp home.

In identical six-page arrest affidavits, dated July 2, for Michelle Knopp, 55, and Alan Knopp, 52, Deputy Daniel Chase outlines information that purports to support felony charges.

The TSU began surveilling the house on April 28 in the early afternoon, and when Michelle Knopp left, a deputy stopped her about a mile away, telling her they were looking for Moore. She told the deputy “he was not at the house and had not been there,” the arrest affidavit says. She then returned to the house for a short time and left again, according to the affidavit.

At 4 p.m., deputies spotted a white male entering the house. Chase called Alan Knopp at his job in Aurora and told him someone was on the property. Knopp told him it was either Moore or someone was burglarizing his home but that he wasn’t able to get there at that time, the affidavit says.

About 5:45 p.m., Alan Knopp arrived. Chase called him again, asking him to check the property for Moore. Alan Knopp agreed, and remained on the phone while he did so. He then told Chase he looked throughout the property but didn’t want to go into an outbuilding, since Moore is the occupant. When Chase asked for permission to search, Alan Knopp told him to seek his wife’s consent. (The home is owned by Michelle alone, records show.)

When Chase asked Michelle Knopp’s permission, “She seemed hesitant to give permission,” the affidavit says, and told Chase she would tell Moore to turn himself in the next day.

“Ms. Knopp never said he was not on the property during our entire phone conversation,” Chase writes. “I asked if she had a way to contact Mr. Moore via phone or knew his physical location and she stated she did not have his phone number nor did she know his location.”

The Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) then executed the search warrant using “chemical munitions” to “draw Mr. Moore out of the residence,” but he was not found. Deputies left the property after 2 a.m.

Michelle Knopp

Michelle Knopp

“It was explained to Mr. Knopp as well as Ms. Knopp that if Mr. Moore returned to the property they were to call EPSO Dispatch to advise us of his location,” the affidavit says. “They both agreed and stated they were clear on the instructions.” 

In mid-June, sheriff’s detective Joy Moss obtained a search warrant to read 671 pages of Moore’s Facebook messages.

In a May 9 exchange with someone, Moore wrote, “I have been busting ass trying to get this tear gas bullshit done. $60,000 for this shit and literally EVERYTHING has to come out of the house. Nothing at all can be left inside. I spent the last 3 days getting my son and daughters rooms done. Now the rest of the upstairs and basement to do.

“Everything like clothes blankets towels stuffed animals curtains carpet the couch and any food that was opened all got thrown away,” he said. “My mom hasn’t been here but twice since it happened and she says she isn’t mad or upset but I know she is and that fucks me up.”

Moore then said it’s rare to use tear gas on a house, and even in those cases, it’s usually limited to one or two canisters.

“But! Luckily Since I’m so violent they used 14,” he wrote, “9 of the small canisters and 5 of the ones meant to clear a city block. Shot out 4 windows and a sliding glass door set two separate curtains on fire and blew thru walls....[even though] the front door [was] wide open.

“Actually,” he continued, “the real best part of it is they still didn’t get my ass and I don’t care who says what I am the hide and seek champion didn’t even cough or sneeze or choke and they looked dumb....”

In another exchange on June 5, Moore wrote, “I’m wore the fuck out. Because the el paso county sheriffs are pieces of shit and tear gassed the fuck out of my moms house since then I have been all go no slow day and night I don’t even remember the last time I slept.”

He then said the raid required work be done on drywall, paint, carpet and windows “that got shot out.” He also said couches and mattresses, some “brand new,” had to be tossed, and everything — including his two kids’ toys — had to be cleaned to remove the tear gas residue.

“You know how big of a pain in the ass it is to sit there and wipe off hundreds of hotwheels?? A huge one,” he wrote.

On June 10, he had another online conversation, saying, “Cock suckers came up empty handed after 8 hours. I’m undefeated in this little hide and seek game....”

Deputy Chase notes in the affidavit that the Facebook conversations “elude” to Moore being inside the house, “staying at the house after for at least days if not the entire time, and Mr. Moore speaking with his mother (Ms. Knopp) just prior to the execution of the warrant on 04/28/2021.”

The affidavit does not cite passages of Facebook messages that demonstrate Moore was in touch by phone with his mom the day of the search.

Alan Knopp

Alan Knopp

Chase also says in the affidavit that Alan and Michelle Knopp knew Moore “was/is” at their home and “are not cooperating with the instructions they were given to contact EPSO Dispatch.”

“Not only do they know where he is, but they are letting Mr. Moore stay at their primary residence,” Chase writes in the affidavit.

Chase’s affidavit cites the Indy’s June 2 article, which was based, in part, on an April 29 interview with Michelle Knopp. Though the affidavit says Alan Knopp also was interviewed, he was not.

The article quoted Michelle Knopp saying she had suffered physically and emotionally from the “choking odor of the tear gas” and that she’d taken time off from her job due to illness from the gas as well as emotional backlash from the invasion.

Chase notes her comments to the newspaper as part of the foundation for the charge of attempting to influence a public servant.

“She is conducting interviews with local media outlets in an attempt to sway or influence the EPSO decision making on locating her wanted son by gaining public sorrow for the actions of what she quoted as saying in the article ‘Lawless Rogue Cowboys’ referring to EPSO Deputies,” Chase writes.

No other media outlets interviewed Michelle Knopp.

Michelle Knopp told the Indy on April 28 that she’d advised deputies she didn’t know where her son was and that they could search the home.

She also said that before they left after 2 the following morning, a deputy told her husband they were going to “keep doing this until they got him [her son].”

Moore’s lawyer, Andrew Brown, says “The amount of violence used is completely disproportionate to what he’s accused of. It’s absolutely astounding the way they came into this house like the siege of Waco. Why are we spending hundreds of cops to completely ransack a house?”

Then, he said this about the charges against Michelle Knopp: “All she’s done is be outspoken about how she’s been treated.”

Josh Tolini, a former public defender who’s argued cases before the state Supreme Court and prevailed in search and seizure questions against federal drug task forces, called the attempted influence of a public servant charge “really out of line.”

“I don’t know how that would possibly hold up [in court],” says Tolini, who reviewed the affidavits in the case. “I’m surprised they would choose to file that.”

He went so far as to say, “The attempt to influence charge is horseshit and should have never have been filed.”

Citizens of the United States are guaranteed a right to freedom of speech by the First Amendment, Tolini says. Only in special circumstances is that not the case, he adds, such as if someone intentionally lies to a law officer to get them to arrest somebody that shouldn’t be arrested.

He says the charge appears to attempt to squelch free speech and deter others. “They’re trying to send a message to anybody else — ’Don’t say bad things about us in the press.’ That seems to be a direct First Amendment violation,” Tolini says.

Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado legal director, notes the definition of the crime alleged, which reads: “Any person who attempts to influence any public servant by means of deceit or by threat of violence or economic reprisal against any person or property, with the intent thereby to alter or affect the public servant’s decision, vote, opinion, or action concerning any matter which is to be considered or performed by him or the agency or body of which he is a member, commits a class 4 felony.”

The charge, he says, is “clearly inapplicable” to the facts of the case, as represented in the affidavit, which Silverstein reviewed. “It [the statute] does not forbid attempting to influence the public by speaking to the media,” he says.

While Silverstein says prosecutors are notorious for filing charges that exceed what can be proven in court, he described the Knopps’ cases as “an egregious overcharging.”

“There’s nothing in this affidavit that supports a charge under the statute, vis-à-vis influencing a public servant,” he says. “It’s clearly out of line.”

The Indy would have asked for a comment from the judge who signed off on the arrest warrant, but the scribbled signature is impossible to decipher. Neither a DA’s spokesperson, nor Silverstein or Tolini could make out the judge’s name.

It’s worth noting that records show Moore has no felony convictions. The pending charges arose from alleged activities between October 2020 and March this year. Free on $88,000 bond, he’s scheduled to enter a plea Oct. 25.

Alan Knopp was arrested outside a pawn shop in Falcon on July 3, and was released the same day after posting $3,000 bond. His next court appearance is Nov. 18. Michelle Knopp turned herself in at the jail on July 6 and also was released on $3,000 that day. Her arraignment is set for Oct. 28. 

Senior Reporter

Pam Zubeck is a graduate from Emporia State University. She worked at the Tulsa Tribune before coming to Colorado Springs, where she spent 16 years at the Gazette and in 2009 joined Colorado Publishing House.