Update 2: As expected, the 18th Judicial District DA's office has decided not to refile charges against former El Paso County sheriff Terry Maketa in regard to allegations spelled out as part of our previous reporting. Moreover, the prosecutors have come to the same conclusion in regard to ex-undersheriff Paula Presley.
In a statement, assistant district attorney and lead prosecutor Mark Hurlbert said, "From the beginning, this has been a case that demanded transparency. An elected official was charged with misusing the power of his office, and that type of allegation especially merited scrutiny from the people of El Paso County. Twice juries thoughtfully and carefully considered the allegations. While we are disappointed with the outcome, we respect their decision and appreciate the seriousness with which they dispatched their duties to the court as well as to their community."
A previous update is below, followed by our main post.
Update 1: Ex-El Paso County sheriff Terry Maketa may finally be off the hook with regard to a years-long scandal described in our previous coverage, on view below. Yesterday, February 5, the jury in his latest trial on corruption allegations found him not guilty of two misdemeanor charges but deadlocked on a pair of felonies. As such, the judge in the case declared a partial mistrial.
In response, lead prosecutor Mark Hurlbert asked that a status conference be scheduled within the next thirty days — but there are grave doubts about whether he would choose to try Maketa for a third time, especially considering that two sets of jurors have already failed to agree about whether or not to lower the hammer on him.
For more details about the Maketa matter, continue for our earlier report, originally published on the eve of the trial.
Original post, 6:40 a.m. January 23: One aspect of the sexy scandal that's embroiled the life of former El Paso County sheriff Terry Maketa for years is off the table, but another is looming. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Maketa and Undersheriff Paula Presley have limited immunity in a lawsuit that accused the pair of practicing sexual favoritism and running a smear campaign against the ex-employee plaintiffs over an internal-affairs file said to have been missing, even though it was actually in Presley's possession the whole time. But at 9 a.m. today, January 23, jury selection is set to begin for Maketa's retrial on four corruption charges on which a previous jury was unable to reach a verdict.
The lawsuit, an EEOC complaint against Maketa, the original indictment and the 10th Circuit opinion are accessible below.
As we noted in a June 2014 post, Maketa was alleged to have had improper relations with several women on his staff and doled out promotions based on sexual favors. El Paso's county commissioners responded by unanimously passing a vote of no confidence in Maketa — but he defiantly refused to resign, putting out a video in which he mixed apologies with statements about his intention to serve out his term.
In December 2014, Maketa finally surrendered, submitting retirement paperwork — and he left office on December 31.
The following March brought the lawsuit, whose listed plaintiffs are Chief Mitchell Lincoln, Commanders Rodney Gehrett and Rob King, Sergeant Rob Stone and Lieutenant Cheryl Peck.
The suit notes that an EEOC complaint charged that Maketa and Presley "had engaged in a sexual relationship with each other that was discriminatory and caused a hostile work environment in the sheriff’s office."
In addition, the lawsuit continues, "allegations made against Maketa in the request for investigation and EEOC charge were that Maketa was engaged in sexual relationships with Tiffany Huntz and Dorene Cardarelle, both El Paso County Sheriff Office employees, and that such conduct was discriminatory and caused a hostile work environment in the sheriff’s office."
Cardarelle has served as comptroller, while Huntz was hired to be the head of training for dispatchers.
Huntz also had a reputation for sharing provocative images of herself online. She's said to have posted under her own name, as well as via a pseudonym, Jessica Jordyn. The photo above was originally shared by the Colorado Springs Independent back in 2010, around the time the paper first dug into allegations of impropriety against Maketa.
When Maketa entered his final term as sheriff, the lawsuit contends, he tried to arrange a soft landing for himself and those with whom he'd had affairs. Here's an excerpt:
Beginning in 2013, Maketa and Presley, jointly and individually, determined to influence the political race for and election of the successor sheriff of El Paso County. Maketa determined to peddle the influence of his endorsement for county sheriff to a candidate in the upcoming Republican Party nominating commission/caucus. In exchange for a commitment from a candidate (1) to offer Maketa a consulting contract with the Sheriff’s office and (2) to offer a sinecure in the sheriff’s office to his three sexual partners, Maketa would endorse the candidate for Sheriff.
One of the people who ran for sheriff was Bill Elder, a previous member of the department who, the suit says, was not friendly with Maketa and wouldn't go for such a deal.
For that reason, the suit contends, Maketa and Presley "devised a plan to discredit Elder as a candidate for sheriff that involved supposedly adverse and negative information about Elder contained in an Internal Affairs (IA) file concerning Elder's conduct while he had previously been a sheriff's officer."
Peck later discovered that the Elder file was missing, and an investigation was launched to determine its whereabouts. As such, the plaintiffs were subjected to interrogations and even polygraph tests about the file, which the suit says was in the possession of Maketa and Presley and kept at the latter's home.
When Stone suggested that Presley actually had the file, the complaint quotes her as exploding in vitriol about him, saying, “I’m going to kill that fucker! He better not come up on this floor to my office! I don’t want him in my office! That fucker!”
Other allegations: Three hours after King, Lincoln and Gherett submitted a letter to the board of commissioners "requesting an investigation of sheriff Maketa and undersheriff Presley for a hostile work environment, threats, a sexual discriminatory workplace, improper procurement and budget practices that were inconsistent with county policies, and retaliation for political views and civil rights violations," they were placed on administrative leave and escorted out of the building by Presley.
There's an unmistakably personal undertone to the lawsuit, with the actions of Maketa and Presley twice described as "evil." Here's a particularly telling passage:
It was well known to plaintiffs that Maketa and Presley were...subject to fits of unreasoned anger and routinely threatened sheriff’s office personnel with being fired for no good reason and in fact fired personnel for no good reason. It was known to the plaintiffs that Maketa took particular, expressed, delight in seeing employees suffer emotionally as to whether they would keep their employment once saying, "I don’t care that its Christmas. I don’t give a fuck about his family" concerning an individual he was considering firing.
Just over a year after the lawsuit's filing, in May 2016, a grand jury indicted Maketa, Presley and a third person, ex-commander Juan San Agustin.
The indictment details multi-count felony and misdemeanor charges against Maketa and Presley (and two felonies naming San Agustin that were dropped last October) involving a range of issues, including conspiracy to commit extortion, witness tampering and even second-degree kidnapping.
The first two counts against Maketa and Presley involved alleged punitive actions taken against Correctional Healthcare Companies, which contracted to provide services at the El Paso County jail, over a memo outlining "inappropriate comments made to [one staffer] as well as two other CHC employees by an El Paso County Sheriff's Office Commander" who's not named. That and an employee's decision not to run Presley's campaign for sheriff led to a demand that a CHC staffer be removed from her position or else the county would terminate the company's contract. That individual was indeed fired.
Counts three through six, which named Maketa, Presley and (in two instances) San Agustin, revolved around an August 2013 domestic disturbance involving a sheriff's-office employee and his girlfriend, who worked for CHC. She wound up with "a swollen face and bruising on her arm" as a result of punching, pushing and shoving.
The sheriff's-office worker subsequently went to Maketa, with whom he had a "pre-existing relationship," the indictment says, to ask "how he could keep his job as he had been suspended and ultimately terminated following his arrest."
In response, Maketa was accused of contacting the victim and telling her to claim that "she instigated the incident and was the aggressor." She did so in order to help the sheriff's-office employee, who was still her boyfriend at the time.
"At the conclusion of that interview," the indictment states, the woman "was arrested for the crimes of domestic violence, harassment and driving under the influence."
By the time Maketa finally went to trial in June 2017, the charges against him had been winnowed down to witness tampering, conspiracy to commit witness tampering, three counts of first-degree official misconduct, extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion. But convincing a jury of his culpability proved to be difficult.
In the end, Maketa was found not guilty of the two witness-tampering beefs and one of the official misconduct accusations. However, jurors were unable to reach a conclusion in regard to the extortion allegations and the two other official-misconduct matters.
Several days later, prosecutors announced that they would retry Maketa on the remaining charges. The matter was originally scheduled for October, only to be postponed until January 23.
In the meantime, the civil case moved forward in fits and starts. In March 2016, the Indy reveals, a U.S. District Court judge dismissed numerous accusations but let stand these four:
a. One consolidated claim for relief for retaliation related to the EEOC complaint and the BOCC request for investigation by Plaintiffs Lincoln, King, and Gehrett against Defendants Maketa and Presley;
b. Plaintiff Peck’s Third Claim for Relief for retaliation asserted against Defendant Maketa;
c. Plaintiff Stone’s Fourth Claim for Relief for retaliation asserted against Defendant Maketa; and
d. Plaintiffs Lincoln, King, and Gehrett’s Sixth Claim for Relief for Title VII retaliation asserted against Defendant Board of County Commissioners of the County of El Paso.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Maketa responded by appealing the ruling to the 10th Circuit, whose January 17 judgment came down in favor of him and Presley.
The court concluded: "The assertion of qualified immunity imposes a heavy burden on the plaintiffs, requiring them to point to existing precedent or the clear weight of authority establishing the existence of a constitutional violation. None of the plaintiffs has met that burden. Lt. Peck has not demonstrated that her statement to the media was clearly made as a private citizen rather than as a public employee. Nor has Sgt. Stone or the Commanders shown that the defendants’ alleged conduct would clearly constitute adverse employment actions. Accordingly, Sheriff Maketa and Undersheriff Presley were entitled to qualified immunity on all of the claims."
That likely ends the civil case against Maketa. But it might not be so easy for him to evade being held responsible for criminal wrongdoing a second time around. The Colorado Springs Gazette reports that the original jury was hung by a single holdout. The vote to convict had been 11-1.