Search warrant: Officer Kristin Bantle admitted to cocaine use
Steamboat Springs — A search warrant unsealed Friday alleges that Steamboat Springs Police Department officer Kristin Bantle lied about using cocaine when she applied for a job with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office.
Routt County District Attorney’s Office investigator Doug Winters got the search warrant signed by a judge June 16. It ordered that the Sheriff’s Office release documents and audio recordings related to Bantle’s hiring process with the Sheriff’s Office in April 2013.
Attached to the search warrant is an email from Sheriff Garrett Wiggins to District Attorney Brett Barkey, in which Wiggins outlines his concerns about Bantle, but does not specifically name her. Wiggins also explains why he waited more than two years to release the information about Bantle.
On Tuesday, the District Attorney’s Office formally charged Bantle with attempt to influence a public servant, a Class 4 felony.
According to the charge, Bantle provided false information on an employment application submitted to the Sheriff’s Office. The public servant named in the charge is Wiggins.
Bantle, who was the school resource officer for the Steamboat Springs School District, has hired attorney Matt Tjosvold. Tjosvold, who left the District Attorney’s Office nine months ago, released a statement Friday:
“We have reviewed the charges, along with the search warrant affidavit, and we are very disappointed that the sheriff has taken this approach to try to discredit our client, a hard-working and experienced police officer and a dedicated servant of the students of Steamboat Springs. We have filed public records requests with the police department, the Sheriff’s Office and the schools.
“Once we have this information, we will be bringing appropriate action on behalf of Ms. Bantle.”
Bantle has been placed on paid administrative leave, and City Manager Deb Hinsvark has said Bantle’s future with the city is uncertain.
According the the search warrant, the District Attorney’s Office began investigating Bantle after receiving a phone call June 2 from interim police chief Jerry DeLong regarding a possible crime that had been committed by Bantle. Delong said the department had been investigating alleged inappropriate conduct by Bantle while she served as the school resource officer. The possible criminal conduct surfaced during that investigation.
The police department began investigating Bantle’s conduct at the schools after complaints were lodged by Wiggins and one of his deputies, both of whom have children in the schools.
The conduct involved Bantle’s use of language during an anti-bullying class. It also involved stories Bantle told students related to her career as a police officer.
Following Bantle’s recent conduct in the schools, Wiggins decided to tell police department administrators about the “red flags” that were raised when Bantle applied for a job at the Sheriff’s Office.
“Last week in a discussion with an administrator with this agency, I told the administrator that this individual had applied with the RCSO, but washed out for serious ethical reasons,” Wiggins wrote in his email to the District Attorney’s Office. “They asked, but I gave them no detailed information. I explained to them that, for liability reason, they were not originally notified. They wish to have this information, and I want them to have it, but I advised them that I would need to get legal advice prior to releasing anything.”
Wiggins’ letter can be found here.
When the information about Bantle first surfaced more than two years ago, Wiggins said in the email to the District Attorney’s Office, he and Undersheriff Ray Birch were told they could be sued if they released the information to the police department.
“Based on this advice, we said nothing to the current agency,” Wiggins wrote in the email. “This did not at the time and still does not feel right to either of us.”
Wiggins elaborated on his frustrations about not being able to release the information.
“I would be very angry if another law enforcement agency had information regarding an employee of the RCSO using illegal drugs and lying but failed to tell me about it so I could take corrective action through either getting the employee assistance or, in the worst case scenario, termination,” Wiggins wrote.
Bantle had been offered a position at the Sheriff’s Office subject to a successful background check.
Wiggins said Friday that, during his career as sheriff, he could not recall an applicant getting that far in the hiring process and then failing the polygraph and psychological exam.
“I had no desire to ruin this gal’s career,” Wiggins said.
According to Wiggins’ email to the District Attorney’s Office, “the applicant” admitted during a polygraph test to using marijuana.
“The applicant also admitted using cocaine one time while being employed a (sic) police officer for their current agency,” Wiggins wrote. Obviously, because of the illegal drug use, the applicant was denied a position.”
According to Wiggins, “the applicant” lied on the Sheriff’s Office application by not being honest about recent drug use. “The applicant” also lied on the pre-polygraph questionnaire.
“During a detailed discussion with the examiner, the applicant eventually admitted to using the illegal drugs to the examiner,” Wiggins wrote. “A couple hours later, the applicant went to our psychological examiner for a psychological exam. The applicant did not mention the recent drug use during the pre-exam questionnaire the psychologist provided prior to the examination, lying for the third time.”
Bantle, who joined the police department in early 2011, was issued a summons to appear in court at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 12. During the hearing, Bantle will be advised of the charge against her.
According to Colorado Revised Statutes, the definition of the attempt to influence a public servant charge is, “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.”
Two of the Steamboat schools Bantle worked in were outside Steamboat city limits.
After learning about the conduct incidents in the schools, Wiggins informed police administrators and school officials that he would no longer allow Bantle to serve as a school resource officer at the Steamboat Springs Middle School and Strawberry Park Elementary School.
Even with the knowledge that Bantle was not hired because of “serious ethical reasons,” Wiggins acknowledged Friday that he did not object when Bantle became the school resource officer about a year and a half ago.
Wiggins said he has no control over who the police department chooses to be the school resource officer, but he personally had a problem with Bantle being chosen.
“It didn’t sit right with me knowing what I knew,” Wiggins said. “There wasn’t anything I could do about it without leaking the information.”
Since Bantle was removed from her position as the school resource officer, there has been a rally of support for Bantle from teachers, parents and students.
Some believed that Bantle being removed from her position was a form of retaliation against Bantle, who is one of the people named in the March letter distributed by former Detective Dave Kleiber. The letter resulted in Police Chief Joel Rae and Deputy Chief Bob DelValle being placed on paid leave while an investigation into their conduct took place.
In the letter, Kleiber wrote that Bantle reported to city officials issues of sexism, sexual harassment and the hostile work environment toward women at the police department. According to Kleiber, no corrective action was taken.
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