Lake County Sheriff Ed Holte has not retracted his statements to me that DA Investigator Rick Wallingford told him no later than April 15, that DA Mark Hurlbert’s investigation of Leadville student tasing by former Deputy John Ortega was complete. Holte told me Wallingford recommended Hurlbert charge Ortega with 15 misdemeanor counts, eight for child abuse and seven for reckless endangerment.
Hurlbert was on an out-of-state-vacation that week of April 12-16. He attended a campaign event upon his return to Colorado on April 17. Hurlbert claims the Ortega investigation was not completed until April 21, while he was in the middle of a week-long, intensive national drug court training seminar from April 19-23.
Hurlbert’s Delay in the Ortega Prosecution and Lack of Public Accountability
Here is Hurlbert’s entire statement on the Ortega investigation, which he provided to me on April 22:
“The Office of the District Attorney completed our investigation of the tazer incident yesterday. We are currently reviewing the reports to see if we can file charges. There are currently no charges filed. We will make a decision on whether to file charges next week.”
Before leaving it at that, however, I asked Hurlbert to explain why, and not just tell the public what he was going to do. The public deserved and expected an explanation for the delay. Why did he need a week after receiving the report even if he’s right and Holte’s wrong about when the investigation was completed? Anyone with common sense knows that if a private citizen had tased as many as 30 kids at their behest, he would have been arrested immediately and charged within a couple of days. Perhaps between being DA, a state Senate candidate, and his need for vacations and training, Hurlbert is spreading himself too thin. Maybe his battery is weak and needs a charge.
I explained to Hurlbert the concerns of many in the Leadville community, including the mayor, that this headline-grabbing case hanging out there could be damaging to their tourism industry. I questioned whether these concerns were entering into his time frame for charging the case.
But Hurlbert did not respond. This imperious attitude is nothing new. Hurlbert almost never feels he needs to explain his actions. He’s used to issuing press releases to the Summit or Vail Daily, which they dutifully roll out, no questions asked.
Hurlbert’s Performance as DA
Hurlbert was also slow off the mark about whether to file charges against Deputy Steven James or Leadville Fire Captain Dan Dailey. Hurlbert charged James with three misdemeanor counts for allegedly obstructing Dailey in his duties when he arrested him upon Dailey’s arrival at the scene of a medical emergency and Dailey refused to leave. Hurlbert declined to prosecute Dailey. That incident occurred on March 27, and Hurlbert announced his filing of charges against James on April 14.
I praised Hurlbert for that decision. Many Lake County residents did as well. I should have emphasized, though, the bulk of that praise was not for charging James, but for not charging Dailey. Dropping the entire spat and not charging either one was my original “verdict.” I refrained then from bringing up Hurlbert’s delay.
Unfortunately, Hurlbert’s decision to charge James may have been prompted by political perception, rather than community concerns. Hurlbert told the Leadville Herald before deciding the case, “Politics don’t concern me at all.” That should have been a red flag that politics was front and center for this career politician. The decision to charge James could have been right or wrong, I don’t know. I agree that Dailey should not have been charged, and I also don’t think he should have had to wait and worry about it for more than two weeks.
Hurlbert’s decision to charge James appeared at the time as a welcome change in Hurlbert’s pattern of failing to charge law enforcement when they have abused their authority or members of the public, and charging the abused members of the public instead. Then again, Dailey was another government official, making things politically trickier for Hurlbert. That scene of demonstrating firefighters from around the state may have crossed his mind.
Contrast this case of a woman with no criminal history shoved off of her bicycle by a State Trooper on the bike path in Dillon. This pattern has been typical in Summit and was reported to me by Leadville Mayor Bud Elliott and local attorneys as common in Lake, as well. And of course, I assumed Hurlbert would promptly charge Deputy John Ortega for the student tasings, not delay doing anything for three weeks. I also assumed that the decision would herald a new level of candor with the public. I was wrong.
Run through a search of the Summit and Vail Daily articles on Hurlbert’s criminal cases and note how he rarely explain his decisions, except to defend himself in the face of absurdly pursued cases, like this infamous Copper Mountain snowball trial. You won’t find much concern expressed for victims of violent crimes, or people found not guilty after having their lives turned upside down and their bank accounts emptied. He was also unapologetic about the woman shoved off her bike.
The Lake County cases don’t get as much media exposure, but residents are aware of them. You’ll also notice by its absence, any detailed bragging by Hurlbert about his record as DA. We can rest assured, if there were much to brag about, we would have heard it by now, more than three months since Hurlbert announced for state Senate.
What Lake County Can Do About Hurlbert
Lake County should be proud that it single-handedly prevented Hurlbert from getting the term limit extension he sought last year. Once again, Lake County can help halt Hurlbert’s political pursuits.
Though Hurlbert has sought to portray himself as a small government, fiscal conservative, the evidence proves otherwise. He has increased his budgets every year, even though case filings have dropped precipitously during the recession. He also supported legislation that increased his own pay from $80,000 in 2008, to $100,000 in 2009, and $110,000 in 2010. That’s a 37.5 percent increase in two years in the middle of a recession, plus the 13 percent PERA retirement plan and other benefits.
Lake County, of course, is not part of state Senate District 16, but that doesn’t mean residents can’t influence this important election. After all, state Senators vote on measures that affect
the entire state. This editorial appeal is not limited to Lake County residents, but to all Coloradans.
Besides encouraging friends and family who live in SD 16 to vote for Hurlbert’s opponent, Tim Leonard, in the August GOP primary, you can make donations or do volunteer work for his campaign. Tim Leonard is a fiscally conservative, libertarian-oriented businessman from Evergreen. He’s got tea party support, and has campaigned more successfully than Hurlbert (maybe because he doesn’t take so much time off). His website is full of material about his views on the issues, including cutting the size of government and excessive police and nanny-state power. Compare it to Hurlbert’s issue-free site.
Even if you’re a liberal Democrat and would vote for Jeanne Nicholson in the November election, Nicholson is unopposed in the primary. Supporting Leonard before August can help make sure Hurlbert doesn’t get to the general election.
One of Hurlbert’s wealthy supporters from outside Lake County, Colorado Treasurer
candidate Muhammed Ali Hasan, has already been spouting off falsehoods throughout Colorado presuming to know what Lake County voters think of Hurlbert:
Mark Hurlbert is, indeed, the best DA in America – I honestly believe that just about everyone in Eagle, Summit, Lake, and Clear Creek would agree (which is why he is going to win SD16)
Really? The “best DA in America”? And almost everyone in Lake and the other counties would agree? But this is less hyperbolic than before, where Hasan is on video here, from 2009 in his home town of Beaver Creek, shouting out “Mark, you’re the best DA in the world.” And this guy wants to be in charge of all of Colorado’s money, with absolutely no background in economics or finance?
Hasan has plenty of reason to support Hurlbert so fervently – Hurlbert declined to file charges against Hasan in a controversial 2008 incident involving harassment and computer hacking charges by his former girlfriend. Despite his personal and political relationship with Hasan, Hurlbert failed to hand the case over to a special prosecutor. And of course, in keeping with the cavalier attitude befitting the best DA in the world, Hurlbert failed to address this obvious appearance of impropriety.
Since Mark Hurlbert has done nothing to rein in his flamboyant supporter’s over-the-top statements to the rest of Colorado about Lake County’s supposed almost unanimous support for him, Lake County citizens should feel free to tell Colorado what they really feel about Hurlbert.