Charges against Sheriff Rick Eldredge and deputies Alan Freestone and Rob Wilcox had been dismissed in November, 2017 by Seventh District Judge George Harmond.
The Attorney General had filed a notice of appeal, but the latest action on January 22 withdrew that notice.
DUST IN THE WIND
by Bill Boyle
I am still shaking my head at Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes. This week, he finally read the writing on the wall and withdrew his appeal of Judge George Harmond's dismissal of charges against Sheriff Rick Eldredge and two deputies.
Judge Harmond dismissed the charges after an August 25 preliminary hearing exposed glaring weaknesses in the case.
Charges against the top three officers in San Juan County were extremely serious and set up a scenario of either corruption in the Sheriff's office or incompetence by the prosecutor.
Harmond's ruling clearly signaled that the problem is with the prosecutor. However, instead of just moving ahead, Reyes filed an appeal in December.
Even as he withdrew the appeal on January 22, Reyes was unwavering, stating he was "confident we would prevail on appeal" and claiming "clear legal errors in the trial court opinion. If the law was properly applied, there is no question this case would be bound over for trial."
County Commissioners released a blistering statement about the issue after the press deadline.
STATEMENT FROM THE OFFICE OF UTAH ATTORNEY GENERAL SEAN REYES
"The Utah Attorney General's Office is confident we would prevail on appeal in this case as there are clear legal errors in the trial court opinion. If the law was properly applied, there is no question this case would be bound over for trial. The obstruction of justice charge is particularly compelling and would have been reversed. However, such a course would eat up limited resources that both of our offices could better utilize on behalf of our citizens. The defense team presented enough preliminary questions, and we negotiated sufficient resolution, that going to trial no longer seems in the best interest of the state.
"This was not a case the AGO sought out nor does it take any pleasure in investigating or prosecuting fellow law enforcement officers, but it is a responsibility we take seriously. Prior to this case, the AGO had only positive interactions with Sheriff Eldredge and his team. We had no personal agenda in our investigation and prosecution except to do justice.
"In addition to several seasoned prosecutors within the AGO who unanimously recommended prosecution, a rural county attorney screened the case by request of the Utah Sheriffs Association. That rural county attorney made an independent recommendation for prosecution. We appreciate the support of the law enforcement community and the many law enforcement leaders who encouraged us in our pursuit of the case.
"From the outset of this matter, a deputy maintained that Sheriff Eldredge pulled the trigger on a rifle aimed directly at the deputy. To his credit, Sheriff Eldredge has admitted he made an inadvertent mistake in aiming his weapon at his deputy near the gun range. Had the Sheriff remembered this incident earlier in the case, and addressed it then, charges would not have been filed.
"The State has now withdrawn its appeal as part of an agreement with Sheriff Eldredge. Among the terms of the agreement, the Sheriff will participate in firearm safety and de-escalation training with the AGO's statewide critical incident firearm training program.
"With this resolution, we hope the Sheriff will continue his public service and are confident he will exemplify the best law enforcement has to offer. San Juan County and the AGO have a long history of mutual respect and cooperation. We look forward to our continuing partnership to serve and protect San Juan County citizens."
STATEMENT FROM THE SAN JUAN COUNTY COMMISSION
San Juan County Affirms Support for Sheriff and Deputies, While Calling On Attorney General's Office to Stop Playing Cheap Political Games
In November, the case against our San Juan County Sheriff and Deputy Sheriff was heard by Carbon County Judge, Judge Harmond. After listening to the "facts" and "arguments" from the State, the judge felt there was no evidence to proceed and dismissed all charges. To us, this was a relief, but ultimately what we believed would happen due to the unusual circumstances surrounding this case being pursued by the Attorney General's office.
The AG's office then acted as the personal prosecutors for a disgruntled employee and appealed the decision. The decision to appeal caused strain on our county law enforcement and most importantly the men and women who serve our community tirelessly.
Today, the Attorney General's office has finally decided to drop their appeal, blaming "limited resources" as their reasoning. While we applaud their limits on wasting taxpayer dollars, we would hope that they would also recognize their limited facts and evidence. Had a proper and thorough investigation been done, in the first place, no tax dollars would have been wasted in this witch hunt. The apathy shown by the AG's office is a complete slap in the face to our county. For months San Juan County, a close community, has lived with the stress of the flawed decisions and political games of the Attorney General's office. For months, the families of Sheriff Eldredge and his deputies have been turned upside down. The AG's office has done irreparable damage to them, but continues to disregard their innocence callously.
The way this case was handled was a blatant attack on San Juan County. When you do not have a case, but continue to aggressively destroy the lives of dedicated citizens on the taxpayer's dime, it is gross negligence and political barratry. The overreach of power and tireless efforts to bully is not unique to San Juan County. It's time for all County's to stand together and demand that the AG's office not be blinded by political motivations and instead focus on serving the taxpayer.