Seventh District Judge dismisses charges against Sheriff, two Deputies
Nov 21, 2017 | 474 views | 0 0 comments | 69 69 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Judge George Harmond of the Seventh District Court in Price released a ruling on November 15 in which he dismissed charges against San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldredge and deputies Alan Freestone and Rob Wilcox. The three top law enforcement officers in the county had been charged with a host of serious charges by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, including retaliation against a witness, reckless endangerment, obstruction of justice and official misconduct. Even though the charges were filed in May, 2017 and it took six months to come to the conclusion, the case was dismissed early in the process. Judge Harmond’s ruling comes after a preliminary hearing on August 25 where preliminary evidence was presented on the case. Generally a preliminary hearing has a low burden of proof to move the case to the next stage. The standard is not quite as high as in a trial itself. As a result, dismissing charges this early in the process only occurs on an occasional basis. The allegations have to do with the actions of Eldredge, Wilcox and Freestone regarding former Deputy Sheriff Todd Bristol, who resigned his office in April, 2017. Bristol stated that Sheriff Eldredge pointed a gun at him at firearms training in October, 2015. Eldredge asked Freestone to conduct an internal investigation and notify POST. In his ruling, Judge Harmond stated that the Attorney General’s office had been notified of the investigation at different points in the investigation. Eldredge initially said he didn’t remember the incident and records showed that Eldredge and Bristol were not at the training at the same time. Bristol told investigators, including Freestone and the Attorney General’s office, that it had happened in October, 2015. About a year into the investigation, Bristol said he realized that the incident occurred in May, 2015. The Sheriff, at that point, began to have some recollection of the incident. Eldredge and Wilcox were together with a number of deputies, including Bristol, at the firearms training. Bristol testified that Eldredge pointed a gun at him and clicked the trigger. That was the basis of the reckless endangerment charge. The retaliation against a witness charge was related to the process that resulted in Bristol resigning from his position. The original court filing from the Attorney General’s office stated that Bristol had been “terminated” from his position in retaliation for reporting a complaint. The obstruction of justice charges were related to the actions of Freestone, Wilcox and Eldredge in investigating the incident. The charges stated that the officials did not conduct a fair investigation into the incident The official misconduct charges basically stated that the local law enforcement officials did not act according to the standards of the office. A motion to dismiss the charges was made at the August 25 preliminary hearing. After prosecutors responded to the motion to dismiss, Judge Harmond took a full two months to make the determination and dismiss all charges against all three men. Regarding the retaliation against a witness charge, the judge said it was clear that Bristol was terminated for his performance as a deputy and not for reporting the alleged incident with Eldredge. The deputy actually resigned from his position and was not terminated from his employment. Bristol’s decision to resign came after a lengthy process, operated by the county human resource office and not by the sheriff. The process included an investigation by the Utah County Sheriff and a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ stated that there was justification to charges against Bristol. Less than one month after the resignation of Bristol, charges were filed against the officers by the Attorney General. Regarding the reckless endangerment charges, the judge stated “the mere pointing of a weapon cannot create a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury without proof that the firearm was loaded and capable of discharging.” The judge has his strongest words about the obstruction of justice charges. Judge Harmond writes that “the evidence is wholly lacking to proceed on this charge” and summarily dismissed ther charges. Regarding the official misconduct charges, the Judge writes, “The State has not met its burden at preliminary hearing and further, based on applicable law, the court declines to bind over Eldredge, Freestone and Wilcox for trial. The case is dismissed.” With the ruling, the three officers will continue to work. The San Juan County Commission kept the men on active duty during the legal process. In a larger department, they probably would have been placed on paid administrative leave. Commissioners said that because the Sheriff’s office has only eleven road deputies, taking the three top officers off the road and off work for a lengthy process would place significant pressure on the office. After Harmond’s ruling, Commissioners released a statement expressing thesupport for the officers. The Commission statement said, “Sheriff Eldredge, Chief Freestone, and Sergeant Wilcox have been examples of selfless service and upstanding character. We want to express our support and gratitude to them as they work tirelessly to keep our community safe. “We could not be more pleased with the decision of Judge Hammond to dismiss these charges. This investigation was based on the agenda of a disgruntled former employee. For us, it is time to pick up the pieces, move forward and provide an opportunity for healing. “This investigation was poorly handled from the start. We hope that the Attorney General’s office will not prolong this nightmare but put a quick end to it and change any policies that continue to hurt innocent people’s reputation and destroy their lives.” It is anticipated that the attorneys defending the law enforcement officers will seek payment of fees from the office of the Attorney General. A spokesman for the Attorney General stated that they are considering whether or not to appeal the ruling of Judge Harmond.
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Monticello City Council addresses issues related to lingering deer
Nov 21, 2017 | 360 views | 0 0 comments | 88 88 recommendations | email to a friend | print
by Eric Niven The Monticello City Council had a busy schedule at the November 14 council meeting. City resident Bernie Christensen expressed concern about the deer situation in the city. Mayor Tim Young agreed that the deer problem this year is a valid concern. In the past, the Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) harvested a percentage of deer every year, a difficult job that requires spotlighting and shooting deer within the city. Mayor Young said there is a statewide deer problem this year, so the state is leaving it up to the cities to resolve the issue. The City and DWR will meet to discuss options. DWR employee David Ketron, who attended the council meeting in a private capacity, explained that because of the early freeze, much of the deer’s food was destroyed. The deer started to migrate early but stopped in and around Monticello. Ketron said that once the usual cold snap hits, the migration will pick up again and most of the deer will move on. Ketron discouraged the public from feeding the deer. City Recorder Cindi Holyoak reported on the results of the 2017 city election. Voter turnout was average at 60.5 percent. Holyoak said 919 ballots were mailed and 556 were counted. Two additional votes were disqualified and one was posted late. The official results for the two City Council seats are George Rice receiving 392 votes, Bailey Hedglin 276, and Daniel Hunter 273. In the race for Mayor, Tim Young received 370 votes and Craig Leavitt had 163 votes. Holyoak said Monticello City contracts with the County to run the elections, ensuring anonymity and efficiency. The new members of the City Council and the Mayor will be sworn in January, 2018. Hideout Golf Pro Tyler Ivins gave his seasonal report on the golf course. Ivins said the number of rounds played this year held steady and is comparable to last year. He explained that the course now employs a new point-of-sale computer system, which will allow the course to track actual revenue. Ivins explained the various sources of revenue for the course and suggested the course is due for a rate change to be competitive with other courses in the State. Options to increase rates will be reviewed, but Ivins currently believes an increase in the cost of weekend rounds would be the most beneficial. Ivins said the Hideout is one of the best courses in the state and publicly thanked Course Superintendent Brian Sturdevant for his good work in getting the course to this level. “He is worth his weight in gold,” said Ivins. Next on the agenda was a discussion about Taylor Lane and how the road is actually not located in the 25 foot by 490 foot right-of-way designated for the road. Like other roads in the city, the road is not owned by the city, but the city still maintains it. The road issue will be resolved through quick claim deeds amongst affected parties. Mayor Young said that any time the city can clean up boundary lines, it should. City Manager Doug Wright said the 2016-2017 audit is not in yet, but a preliminary look reveals nothing that cannot be resolved when the formal audit is received. Wright said the job of City Manager in a small municipality is more diverse than he expected and understanding the accounting process is a real learning curve for him. Wright also presented a formal travel form for city employees, which the council approved unanimously. City Manager Wright also said the Utah Department of Transportation is moving offices from Moab to Monticello, and they are strongly considering renting the old golf Pro Shop building for office space. Another building is under consideration, but it apparently lacks the parking necessary (ten spaces) for the transferring staff of five. The initial suggested rental would be $500 a month on a seven year lease with remodeling at UDOT’s expense. Wright suggested the Council table the lease and grant him time for further negotiations. The Council agreed. Recorder Holyoak presented the City’s response to Utah Senate Bill 81 which redefines the need for business licenses for Home Occupation businesses. In section 10-2-4 Conditional Uses section of the City Code, the City maintains that licenses will still be required for those business identified under the current definitions of 10-2-4. In addition, business licenses will be required if the home business involves child or adult care or preschool business, requires or attracts more than ten vehicle trips per day, is required to have fire inspections, or is required to obtain a license from another governmental agency such as the Department of Health. Holyoak said all other home base business will not be required to have a business license. She also said that short term vacation rentals are not required to have a business license. The amended 10-2-4 of the City Code is still in draft form and will require a public hearing before it can be ratified. Holyoak said the City currently issues 200 business licenses per year, and of those, 50 are home based. City Manager Wright gave a brief report of several projects he was overseeing. The Mission Discovery School has received a temporary waiver by the Fire Marshall, plans to install the required fire alarms, and is in the process of obtaining a $50,000 business loan for remodeling. The remodeling for compliance should be done by January. The airport fueling system is now operational, though in fixing the fueling system problem, those doing the work disrupted the entry keypad system. This problem will be resolved shortly. Progress is being made on Tyler Hall’s business request to use the Mill site for a business opportunity. City Manager Wright suggested the City waive participation in the State’s proposed Wildland Fire Policy discussed in the last council meeting, recommending the Fire Department enlist younger volunteers. The outstanding debt owed the city for the paving of the parking lot behind NAPA has been received. Lastly, City Manager Wright believes the expectations for the trails grant might be adjusted and the city could still live up to the spirit of the grant.
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