Maketa trial keys on current sheriff ’s file
COLORADO SPRINGS» Former El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa wanted to knock a sheriff’s candidate out of the race when he drew attention to a missing disciplinary file, a key witness testified Wednesday.
“(Maketa) told me that if everything went the way he wanted it to go, then the media and community would see that Bill Elder was crooked and dirty, and it would knock him out of the election,” Lt. Cheryl Peck said.
The so-called Elder file again took center stage at Maketa’s corruption trial, consuming much of the third day of testimony as prosecutors highlighted claims that the term-limited sheriff sought to influence the 2014 election to pick his successor.
Claims involving the missing file led to disciplinary action against two deputies, giving rise to two counts of official misconduct against Maketa, both misdemeanors. A third count of official misconduct stems from a different feud.
The file — said to document misconduct by Elder during a previous stint as a sheriff’s deputy — was discovered missing by Peck from a locked room at the sheriff’s internal-affairs unit in April 2013.
During opening statements, prosecutors alleged that the file was actually in the possession of Undersheriff Paula Presley, a Maketa ally weighing a run for sheriff, and that Maketa encouraged a bogus investigation to tarnish Elder’s candidacy and subject his supporters to withering scrutiny. Several sheriff’s employees previously told the jury they were made to feel like their jobs could be at stake if they defied their boss.
Peck, formerly of internal affairs, described the day she first noticed the file missing. After being asked to retrieve a different file from the unit’s archives, Peck said she noticed an empty folder with Elder’s name on it sticking out about an inch above the others in a file cabinet.
“I thought, ‘Well, that can’t be good.’ ”
She described how Maketa drafted her into a hunt that she said seemed politically motivated.
Months after the file’s disappearance, the sheriff ordered Peck to conduct media interviews, saying he wanted to combat Elder’s claim that he had never been the subject of an internal-affairs investigation, she said.
Maketa also ordered that deputies who were known to be Elder supporters — including Robert Stone and Emory Gerhart — undergo computerized voice stress analysis tests, a form of lie detector. She claimed the sheriff acknowledged to her in the past that he had pressured a test administrator to say people had failed when they actually had passed.
Peck faced stiff questioning by Maketa’s attorneys, who pointed out that at least one of the deputies failed the test.
The defense, led by Denver attorney Pamela Mackey, focused on indications that order was crumbling around the sheriff’s office in the midst of the coming election and that at least one deputy, Gerhart, was feeding information to Elder about internal-affairs investigations and other privileged matters.
Under cross-examination, Peck acknowledged she told three commanders about the missing file and later lied about it during the investigation, saying she hadn’t told anyone.
“It was the right thing to do to protect people’s careers,” she said, admitting she also feared for her own future if Elder won and his supporters blamed her for being involved in the probe.
A former sheriff’s detective, Joseph Kelemen, testified that he was asked to begin a criminal investigation into the file’s disappearance in December, eight months after Peck discovered it missing.
He didn’t want the assignment, saying he suspected politics were involved, but denied that Maketa directed him to target Elder’s supporters. Kelemen’s focus was on anyone who had access to keys to the locked office, he said.
Kelemen admitted that he ended up leaving the sheriff’s department after Elder won the election, citing problems with deputies who had been brought in for the tests that he helped administer.
In its questioning, the defense suggested Maketa wanted only to plug the leaks in internal affairs while making sure employees weren’t using work time for political purposes.