Deputy who Tased Leadville, Colo. Students to Be Charged with 15 Misdemeanor Counts by DA Mark Hurlbert, According to Lake Cty. Sheriff Holte: Tasing Ortega Resigns; James, Charged in Firefighter Arrest, on Paid Leave – UPDATED – Hurlbert Disputes Holte, Says No Charging Decision For Another Week

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.

6 responses to “Deputy who Tased Leadville, Colo. Students to Be Charged with 15 Misdemeanor Counts by DA Mark Hurlbert, According to Lake Cty. Sheriff Holte: Tasing Ortega Resigns; James, Charged in Firefighter Arrest, on Paid Leave – UPDATED – Hurlbert Disputes Holte, Says No Charging Decision For Another Week

  1. kelli phillips

    I can’t believe that the Sheriff would go against the D.A. about what happened. I saw first hand the way James treated the Fire Chief from Chaffee county the night of the Leadville Aspen Gold Fire. He is very rude and very cocky. I would be totally emberassed to tell people he works for me. My opinion is they scraped the bottom of the barrel for this one!

  2. Pingback: Leadville sheriff’s deputy to face charges over tasing « Summit County Citizens Voice

  3. Wow! With a number of kids involved in this tazering incident, with two going to the hospital and the deputy possibly drawing up his own ‘consent’ forms, what’s Sheriff Holte’s hiring process? As a member of the community, I heard a couple of the kids were special needs kids.

    Now for DA Hurlbert. I’m glad we voted against his request for a third term. It appears he’d rather vacation with his own children rather than stand up for the children he’s taken an oath to protect. Now he wants to run for State Senate? I hope he doesn’t vote on any bills to protect kids.

    Remember November.

  4. Sheriff Holte finally published today in the local Leadville newspaper regarding Deputy Ortega who tased the kids “Mr. Ortega’s employment with this office has been terminated.”
    This kind of slippery way of avoiding real accuracy would lead readers into possibly thinking Holte was so outraged over Ortega’s conduct that he terminated Ortega. However, remember when Ortega, (now being charged with 15 counts of child abuse and child endangerment), was originally told by Holte he was only suspended without pay for a week?
    The facts are that now, AS A RESULT of the charges being filed, we learn Ortega has actually resigned, not been “terminated” involuntarily, as Holt’s misleading statement would indicate.
    What residents would like to know, is why would any rational sheriff suspend a deputy for a week who had visual evidence of tasing over 15 kids?
    Sorry Holte… we’re not buying your so called discipline.

  5. I wonder where some of the teachers and/or school officials were while the tazing was going on…….and, if the “children” were really “begging” the deputy to taze them so they would know what it felt like….shouldn’t they be held accountable for their actions also? I don’t think the deputy was the only guilty party in this scenario…….

    • Carol,

      Good question. The Denver Post just promoted this story to one of their top journalists, Colleen O’Connor.

      My guess is that they were lying low because of the very concerns you raise. Colleen did a great job getting anything out of them and tracking them down. Mark Hurlbert, to his credit, filed 20 charges yesterday against Ortega. From what I hear, parents were not that concerned about the scenario. I can understand that, and it sounds like former-Deputy Ortega was a nice guy, but the bottom line is that this was criminal conduct. I just say call and call and call these teaching autoriities and tell them how you feel.

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