DA Mark Hurlbert Files Charges Against Deputy in Leadville Student Tasing: Ortega Due in Court May 24; Hurlbert Explains Investigation- Video

District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, a Republican candidate for the Colorado state Senate,  announced Wednesday he is filing 21 charges against former Lake County sheriff’s deputy, John Ortega,  who tased as many as 30 Leadville students at a Career Fair on April 8. Ortega has now been notified by summons that he must appear for his first court appearance on May 24, in Lake County Court.

I was under the weather most of this past week, and apologize for the break in blogging.  To make up for it, I have some more details not yet reported in other media outlets (including the court date).  A press release campaign on Monday and Tuesday put the media on alert for a possible Wednesday decision, so the story was covered thoroughly around the country, helping relieve me of my self-imposed burden.  Hurlbert even gave an interview to 9News, and their video is here.

The use of the summons means Ortega will not have to face the “ignominy,” as Hurlbert put it, of an arrest, booking, and bail. Hurlbert told me that this is the way most suspects should be treated under Colorado’s Rules of Criminal Procedure,  but acknowledged that despite his urgings to law enforcement agencies to handle most cases this way, “it’s been an uphill battle.”

Hurlbert charged Ortega with 11 misdemeanor counts of child abuse with injury-Class I misdemeanors,  nine counts of reckless endangerment, and one count of child abuse without injury. Hurlbert said two children had pre-existing heart problems.  The injuries involved red marks left on the victims’ skin, Hurlbert told me. I assume these are burn marks from the taser.

The mainstream media has been breathlessly reporting the possible 27 plus years in jail Ortega could receive, but that would only happen if Hurlbert or Ortega insisted the case to trial, Ortega lost, and the judge imposed the maximum sentence for each count and imposed the sentences consecutively.  Still, a trial would impose a big downside risk for Ortega given the number of counts, and Ex-Pat Ex-Lawyer believes Ortega will settle.

If he does any jail time at all, I would be very surprised if it was more than 30 days.  Hurlbert agreed the case would likely settle, if for no other reason than the great majority of all criminal cases in Colorado settle via a plea bargain.

Because the DA’s office conducted the investigation, no “police report” exists, and the DA’s own report won’t be released until the case is concluded, Hurlbert told me. This is because a DA investigator’s report is part of the prosecution’s case file, and disclosure would likely violate attorney ethics rules.

DA Hurlbert Explains Delay in Charging Ortega

As I had previously requested publicly and privately to him, Mark Hurlbert also explained in much more detail, , the rationale for the three-week time lag in charging the case.  Hurlbert reported to me that it took a while to get the names of all the kids, as it was not clear on April 8, when the tasings occurred, who had been tased.

Once investigators assembled the names, DA Investigator Rick Wallingford began interviewing them.  The interviews were completed on April 21, which is what Hurlbert stated before, when he contradicted Sheriff Holte’s statements that Wallingford told him the investigation was finished on April 15.

On April 27, Hurlbert told me he did not get the report from Wallingford until it was emailed to him on April 23, while he was out-of-state at a legal conference for intensive drug court training.  He needed more time to review the report and decide what legal charges were appropriate, as Wallingford didn’t specify the legal   statutes.  Hurlbert said this is why “I still do not know where Ed Holte got the potential charges on April 15.”

Hurlbert also said some new reports “were on [his] desk” on April 26.  Hurlbert insisted he would have needed three weeks to charge Ortega, whether he was out-of-state for two weeks, and campaigning for state Senate, or whether he had been in his office “every single day.” (Hurlbert is campaigning in a primary race against Evergreen businessman, Tim Leonard).

I’m not sure I find this time lag completely justified, as Hurlbert is very knowledgable about the applicable statutes; it would hardly have been a big research project for him once Wallingford supplied the facts. Even if the investigation period seems reasonable, it seems charges could have been filed more quickly.  Most importantly, as soon as Hurlbert  saw the general scope of the investigation required, he should have explained to the public approximately how long it would take to sort out and complete, and why.

But I don’t want to quibble or second-guess – my biggest concern was simply getting a detailed explanation and reporting it.  It’s commendable that Hurlbert shared these details to report to our readers.  In this and in other issues, Hurlbert has become much more transparent since my previous post, and I’m optimistic this will continue.  This new transparency and responsiveness will benefit Hurlbert and the public.

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