Lake County Sheriff’s Deputy John Ortega will be charged by DA Mark Hurlbert with 15 misdemeanor charges arising out of an alleged tasing of Leadville school students at a Career Fair on April 8. According to Lake County Sheriff Ed Holte, the charges will include eight counts of child abuse and seven counts of reckless endangerment. Holte told me Deputy Ortega resigned yesterday.
Update: 4-21, 10:00 p.m. – I sent this post to Mark Hurlbert in a mass email right after posting the article. Hurlbert emailed back as follows: “I have not made that [a charging] decision yet. No matter what Ed Holte says. And it won’t be made until next week.” I immediately phoned back Sheriff Holte, left a detailed message about Hurlbert’s statement, and asked him to call me. He didn’t. Update 4-22. Holte did call me first thing this morning, and based on that conversation I posted this new article. Update 4-25. The latest is on this new post.
I sought further details from Hurlbert. Was he saying he hadn’t made any charging determination at all, or hadn’t decided on the number or nature of the counts? He stated it would be inappropriate to say he whether he was going to file charges or not until he had completed his investigation. He further stated “three weeks is not a long time when there are over 30 witnesses.”
I should point out that Hurlbert’s statements don’t necessarily mean he hasn’t made any decision yet in his own mind or within the DA’s office. It could mean that, but it could also mean that he feels it inappropriate to comment until he has decided on the actual charges, if any. I also asked him why the Sheriff would tell me this if it weren’t true. Hurlbert replied, “I have no idea what Ed Holte is thinking.” Never a dull moment in Leadville.
According to Denver’s 9 News, the students wanted to see what a stun from a taser felt like:
According to school administrators, the students asked the deputy to shock them so they knew what it felt like.
Two of the students received minor burns and were taken to a local hospital. They were treated and released.
A student says one female student was shocked seven times at her request.
The students were not shot with the taser, but Ortega allegedly used the Taser in drive-stun mode. Drive-stun mode is used as a “pain-compliance” technique where the taser is pressed against someone’s body and a charge administered. A drive stun, though not disabling like a standard Taser electric barb shot, inflicts severe pain and often injury, as occurred here, with the aim of getting a resisting suspect to voluntarily submit so as not to receive any more pain. The drives stun has also been used inappropriately in some instances as a form of punishment.
Because of conflicts between the lake County Sheriff’s Department and the Leadville Police, neither police agency wished to be involved in the investigation, so DA Hurlbert stepped in with a team of investigators from his office. Some students reported that Deputy Ortega wrote out some form of waiver for the students to sign before being tased, but Hurlbert confirmed what we wrote here: “What we are looking at is child abuse charges, even if there is talk the kids consented, kids can’t consent to being abused,” Hurlbert stated to 9 News.
Many in the community thought charges should have and would have been brought sooner than two weeks following the incident. But Hurlbert refused my requests to give a timeframe for the conclusion of the investigation. He was reportedly out-of-state on vacation last week. Hurlbert is running for state Senate in a primary battle against conservative/libertarian businessman, Tim Leonard.
Deputy Steven James, Charged for Wrongful Arrest of Firefighter, Placed on Paid Leave
Hurlbert already charged another deputy, Steven James, in the arrest of Fire Captain Dan Dailey. James arrested Dailey when he was the first responder at a medical emergency in Leadville and refused orders to leave. The arrest arose out of an ongoing territorial dispute between Lake County and the City of Leadville.
Sheriff Holte told me today that he will be placing James on paid administrative leave rather than unpaid because he disagrees with Hurlbert’s decision to charge James. Some rumors were floating around Leadville that the county might pay for James’ defense, which would have been unusual to say the least as the county is paying for James’ prosecution via the DA’s office. Holte said because James is a member of the Fraternal Order of Police, that organization would pay for his defense.
I pointed out the case could go on a very long time before being resolved given James’ determination to fight the charges through jury trial, and whether that might be an excessive burden on county taxpayers. Holte told me James is only on leave at all because of possible insurance company concerns. If those are resolved, Holte will likely place James back on active duty.