Chuck Zukowski likes to think that his work as an El Paso County reserve deputy sheriff sharpened his skills as an off-duty investigator of cattle mutilations, UFO and Bigfoot sightings and ghostly apparitions -- and vice versa. But law enforcement bosses aren't keen on those who think differently. Last month, Zukowski was terminated for "contradicting and being critical of official Sheriff's Office investigations in a public forum."
Zukowski's offense? Telling Fox 31 reporter Heidi Hemmat on camera that local law enforcement "really isn't trained to look at something like this" -- "this" being a baffling case of horse mutilation last summer at a ranch an hour east of Colorado Springs. The official El Paso County investigation concluded that predators were at fault. But Zukowski points out that most police officers have a week or less of training on animal deaths, while he's spent many hours in the field and with veterinarians at Colorado State University learning how to distinguish predator activity from other types of wounds.
His termination letter suggests Zukowski encouraged journalists to identify him as a representative of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office. But Zukowski denies that he's ever done that; Hemmat's report, for example, lists him as an independent paranormal investigator. His bio on his website, ufonut.com, proudly notes that he spent eight years as a volunteer reserve officer while working primarily as an engineering consultant and microchip designer.
"I put a lot of faith in the media," Zukowski says, "and I tell them I don't represent law enforcement."
The real issue, though, may be that the El Paso County Sheriff's Office doesn't regard paranormal investigations as compatible with police work. The termination letter also notes that Zukowski was asked to "refrain" from such investigations and refused.
Zukowski's interest in the paranormal dates back to his childhood in a small town in southern Arizona, where he sometimes saw strange lights in the sky and eventually became fascinated with the reports of an alien visitation in Roswell, New Mexico. He conducts his investigations, which involve night-vision goggles, electronic meters and other ghost-hunting equipment, on his own time (and dime), sometimes in the company of his sister and other family members. "My wife is my best skeptic," he says. "She's always asking me, 'How do you know that? Can you prove it?'"
He's appeared on several programs on the Sci-Fi (now SyFy) Channel dealing with Roswell, but he's also done a series of videos of his own, dealing with everything from mutilation cases to ghosts to an alleged sasquatch stomping around Bailey. Zukowski says one sort of investigation leads to another: "Before you know it, you're branching out."
Talking to people upset about alien abductions or disemboweled livestock made him a better cop, he says, and helped teach him how to de-escalate emotional situations. "I've been more scared doing UFO and ghost investigations than with anything I've encountered in the sheriff's office," he says.
He'll miss the 200 or so hours a year he devoted to the reserve deputy job, but it does free up a little time for his other extracurricular activities.
For a video of the Chuck Zukowski-Joe Fex Bailey Bigfoot investigation, see below. Other webisodes of Zukowski's paranormal probes can be found here.
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