The Utah Attorney General has filed charges in Seventh District Court against San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldredge and two of his deputies.
Charges include a single felony count each against Eldredge and his chief deputy, Alan Freestone, and several misdemeanor charges against Eldredge, Freestone, and Deputy Rob Wilcox.
The San Juan County Commission said the three law enforcement officials will remain on active duty until the legal proceedings are complete.
The Sheriff’s office has 11 field officers, including the three who face charges. Commissioners argue that placing the officers on administrative leave will “create an undue public safety risk for county residents.”
The issue appears to have begun as an employment dispute with another deputy and has grown into a full-blown crisis within the department.
A probable cause statement outlines an incident at a department qualification shoot in May, 2015, where Eldredge allegedly pointed an unloaded assault rifle at a deputy whom he had previously confronted.
One year later, after the deputy complained about the incident, Eldredge assigned Freestone to investigate. The charges allege Freestone did not conduct a proper investigation.
The probable cause statement adds that the three officers provided false information to an investigator from the Utah Attorney General’s office.
The deputy was placed on administrative leave several months after the internal investigation was complete, and eventually resigned in April, 2017.
The charging documents were filed in Seventh District Court in Monticello on May 12. Eldredge is charged with felony retaliation against a witness, reckless endangerment, obstruction of justice, and official misconduct.
Freestone is charged with felony retaliation against a witness, obstruction of justice, and official misconduct.
Wilcox is charged with reckless endangerment, obstruction of justice, and official misconduct.
If convicted, the felony charges carry a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine up to $5,000. The misdemeanor charges carry a maximum jail sentence of up to one year.
The three men have been involved in law enforcement in San Juan County for years. Eldredge, age 48, was first elected Sheriff in 2010, after spending 19 years in the Utah Highway Patrol. Freestone, age 57, and Wilcox, age 46, have been Sheriff’s deputies for years.
Local officials were taken by surprise when the charges were filed. Many thought the issue had been resolved.
“It is never pleasant to bring charges against a fellow public servant, but when it is necessary, we will diligently do our jobs to assist the Court in holding them accountable,” said Attorney General Sean Reyes.