Sheriff Bill Elder calls Indy story "crap"

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Sheriff Bill Elder, who took office on Dec. 31, 2014, says no one ordered two employees to notarize deputy oaths of office affidavits without witnessing their signatures. The oaths were filed with the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office 15 months after they were administered. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sheriff Bill Elder, who took office on Dec. 31, 2014, says no one ordered two employees to notarize deputy oaths of office affidavits without witnessing their signatures. The oaths were filed with the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office 15 months after they were administered.
In a bizarre rant during a hastily called news conference on Wednesday, Nov. 8, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder lashed out at the Independent and its senior reporter, yours truly, after publication of our cover story this week about a misstep in his office.

In addition to personal attacks and repeated complaints about a blog that we altered at his request (though it contained no error), Elder also took issue with the claims made by one of his past employees in our cover story. Elder and his senior staff were all given a chance to comment for our story, but chose only to provide a written statement, which we published in full. But at the conference, Elder — who insisted he never wanted to speak to me again — had far more to say about the report.

Elder called media together at 3:45 p.m. in the 5th floor conference room at the Sheriff's Office, 27 E. Vermijo Ave., and proceeded to attack the Indy and me for the story, which he called "crap."

He also spent quite a bit of time complaining about a blog post I wrote in August about his use of a Sheriff's Office phone number as the contact number on his candidate affidavit for the 2019 election. I included a copy of the affidavit in the post, as proof that Elder was using a government phone number for his campaign business. The affidavit contained his home address, a field that many candidates instead choose to list a P.O. Box in for privacy reasons. The affidavit was and is available on a public website as a matter of public record. The Indy, however, removed the document from our blog within a day at Elder's request after he expressed concern for his and his wife's safety.

Elder said in the press conference that he bought a new personal cell phone the night our blog posted — and seemed angry that we had not noted that step, though he had never notified us of the change.

He said, "When you posted my personal home address, without regard to my safety, my wife’s safety and my grandchildren’s safety, that was absolutely the most irresponsible thing I could ever imagine."
He brought up the address issue at least three times during the 47 minutes that I and Indy editor Matthew Schniper spent at the news conference. "That’s my home address," he said. "I know you don’t get it. You don’t care. That’s why everybody in government wants nothing to do with answering your questions."

He also said that "every elected official, every department head, every business head, nobody wants anything to do with you."

When I asserted that wasn't true, he said:
It is true. It is true. And I can tell you from my perspective, I’m done dealing with you, Pam. I’m done inviting you into my office and giving you free rein to sit and ask me questions. You stepped over the line in the last six months. You stepped over the line. You accused my staff and my employees of felony crimes and insisted in your article that they could be indicted and that’s crap.

I am beyond, beyond done with you, Pam. How would you feel if your home address was published in some newspaper read by the public? I’m the chief law enforcement officer of the county. Don’t you think 1,700 inmates a day want my address? Do you think for a second that my wife feels that her life is in danger? Do you think for a second that every drug dealer, every bandit in this community wants my home address? What responsibility do you have to my safety, to my wife’s safety, to my family? Every article you write about me says 'and the website that dogs the sheriff dirtyelder.com.' My grandkids read that, my children read that. There’s not a single name on that website that gives any verification at all. But you feel free to publish it, because it’s out there. That’s irresponsible. You are irresponsible.

And I am upset that you included these people [his staffers] in your article in any way shape or form, that you are maybe the worst writer I’ve ever met, to include them in your article, to put their pictures in your article.

To clarify, the Indy opened the question of whether sheriff's office employees could face legal consequences, should our source's claims be found to be true. We did not accuse anyone of a felony crime, nor did we insist anyone would be indicted. Nor do we cite dirtyelder.com in every article about Sheriff Elder.

Dirtyelder.com is a website created months ago that posts allegations against Elder without identifying those making the allegations, but has posted documents to support its claims in some blog posts. The Indy has included links to the website in some blog posts. The website has also been covered by other media outlets, including the Gazette.

Elder also expressed concern that Mike Angley, a Republican running against Elder for sheriff, is citing the story. Angley's website provides a link to the Indy story with this headline: "You Are Entitled to Outrage."

Prior to the printing of our Nov. 8 story, the Indy  asked for interviews with Elder, Administrator Larry Borland, Communications Director Jackie Kirby and Chief of Staff Janet Huffor, but they "kindly declined," Kirby said in a Nov. 1 email.

On Nov. 8 at the news conference, Elder cited the home-address issue as the reason he refused to grant the Indy an interview prior to publication. He noted that after he provided a written statement to other news outlets who asked about the notary problem, they didn't do a story. But the Indy produced a 3,000-word article "indicting my staff," Elder alleged.

Elder refuted the story that ex-employee Rick Dietz, who worked in the Human Resources Department, told the Indy. Dietz said that in April 2016, the Elder administration discovered that none of the deputies' oaths-of-office affidavits had been notarized and filed with the Clerk and Recorder's Office in accord with past practice. The oaths had been administered in January 2015 to sheriff's deputies and later that year to police officers from cities and towns in the region.

Dietz said Borland ordered him and co-worker Dave Mejia to notarize deputies' oaths of office in April 2016, even though those deputies weren't standing before the notaries at that time, a requirement of notarizing a document. Moreover, the oaths weren't filed with the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office for more than a year, he said. (The documents confirmed this.)

Dietz told the Indy he and Mejia interpreted Borland's directive as a direct order to notarize the documents or risk retaliation. (Mejia, who works for another county department now, hasn't responded to multiple phone calls from the Indy seeking an interview.)
sheriff_soffice.pamzubeck_1.jpg
Elder contended that Dietz and Mejia attended the swearing in ceremonies at Pikes Peak Center and elsewhere and, therefore, witnessed the signatures. He said they took it upon themselves to notarize the documents all in one day in April 2016. "Nobody has ordered anybody to do anything," he said, asserting that notarizing the oaths isn't required by any law or policy or rule.

"There isn’t a single one of these that are forged," Elder said. "There’s not a single one of these that were fraudulently represented. I am absolutely appalled, I’m appalled that a journalist would write that without any independent verification whatsoever, except that from a disgruntled employee who walked off the job."

The Indy did not use the words "fraud" or "forge" to describe the situation.

He also said, "The notary by notarizing something that he didn’t witness, that’s on him. That’s not on me. There’s no way on earth these three [Huffor, Kirby and Borland] or me or anyone else in this agency ordered them, threatened them or otherwise to notarize a thing."

(Dietz resigned in June 2017 after he received a seven-page reprimand for what he considered a minor misstep, the first disciplinary action he received in 13 years at the county. He's trying to get unemployment, but the Sheriff's Office opposes it.)

At the news conference, Borland denied he gave the order to notarize the oaths and get them filed. "I have been in public service in this community 38 years," he said. "I have never ordered anyone to notarize anything. I certainly have never ordered anyone to notarize something they didn’t witness. I would not do that. I did not do that. That did not happen."

The Indy asked for a comment from Dietz about Elder's allegation that it was his fault, to which he responded, via email, "This is classic Elder...point the finger...accept no blame...blame the victim. Either way...if he was aware of the intimidation, he's corrupt. If he didn't, why didn't he and why was it hidden from him?"

The Indy also asked Dietz about a photo produced by Elder at the news conference showing Dietz standing at a cart in what appears to be a Sheriff's Office conference room with a room full of officers. (The Indy requested a copy of the photo but has yet to receive one.) Elder said the photo proved Dietz witnessed all the signatures.
Says Dietz: "False. That was actually the only 'swearing in ceremony' I attended and was there to help set-up and hand out ID cards. [I attended] No Centennial Hall ceremony...no UCCS...No CSPD substations, etc."

He added, "I would like to know exactly what Sheriff Elder's hypothesis is as to why I would come into work on an April '16 morning and suddenly decide to fraudulently notarize hundreds of commission cards without anybody's knowledge...and include Dave [Mejia] in my master plot...then secretly submit them to the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder for filing/recording...only to turn around 19 months later and make-up a story about intimidation and coercion at the staff level. Was it truly all part of my master plan?"

Elder confirms that Chief of Staff Janet Huffor delivered the notarized oaths, 1,016 of them, to the clerk and recorder for filing on one day. Here's his version:
In May 2016, we had a deputy dying of cancer, and we wanted to pay a tribute to him and his wife and provide a framed copy of his oath of office, so we went up to the room where he lay dying at Penrose Hospital and I swore him in and I gave him his badge and we left that room with that signed affidavit and took it to the Clerk and Recorder's Office and we had it recorded, and we brought it back down here and then we checked when it got recorded to put it on the document, and we noticed there were only two documents that had been recorded. My swearing in and this one.

But yet on Jan. 13 and 14, we swore in 500 deputies. So we immediately said, where did they go?

So we went down to HR where they [Dietz and Mejia] worked and said, "Where are these documents?" And they started to research and said some here, some here, some here, some here and they pulled them all together and so we had a big stack.

So why aren’t these recorded? "We didn’t have time." We got them all together, and we, Janet emailed the clerk and said, "Can we bring these over?" He [Clerk and Recorder Chuck Broerman] said, 'Bring them all at once." She put them in an envelop and drives to the clerk’s office and gets them recorded and brings them back.

And we sat down and said we can’t allow this to happen and wrote out a process. From now on, they will go this way and this way. They will sit in our office until we pull their commissions and we will file with the clerk and recorder... and that’s how we do it today.
  
Elder contends former Sheriff Terry Maketa should have, but didn't, renew oaths of office every four years for each of his three terms. Clerk and Recorder records show that the oath affidavits weren't refiled for each of his terms, which Elder contends is required. There is no law the Indy is aware of that requires oaths to be refiled for each term of a sheriff who is reelected to subsequent terms, and Elder didn't cite a specific statute to that effect.

(Elder said at the news conference that none of the oaths administered by Maketa were notarized. A spot check proved otherwise; Kirby notarized many of them. Asked about that, Kirby said on Elder's behalf that Elder's comment was "incorrect." A spot check of the Maketa years shows that oath affidavits were filed several months after the fact at times.)

Elder also insisted repeatedly that the oath affidavits don't require a notary. Yet, affidavits filed by his office since April 15, 2016, have been notarized. We asked the Sheriff's Office about that on Thursday, Nov. 9. Kirby said via email: "There is a section on the Appointment for a Notary. It was filled out as such by a Notary when a Notary was available for the swearing in of law enforcement officers over the last year and a half. When new forms are purchased or drafted, that section will be removed as it is not required by State Statute or regulation."

Before we walked out of the interview, Elder defended his right to "vent" at us during the meeting, saying, "You're a journalist. I'm the Sheriff. I get my opinion, just like you do ... and my opinion is you're irresponsible."

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