Sheriff’s office cleared in mix-up on background check

Bond conditions were modified for a burglary suspect Thursday, but not before a judge cleared the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office in a reported mix-up over a background check.

“The sheriff’s office did everything correctly,” said District Court Judge Todd Plewe.

Plewe explained the defendant’s first and second requested background checks performed by the sheriff’s office were completed correctly, but he said two misdemeanor charges did not appear on either criminal history reports. Plewe said it appears the defendant was neither arrested nor fingerprinted on the previous charges, which is likely the reason why the charges didn’t show on the background checks.

On Tuesday, March 11, The Cortez Journal reported that the sheriff’s office conducted a background check on the wrong burglary suspect.

After further investigation, a total of three separate background checks of the burglary suspect were conducted, two by the sheriff’s office and the third by the district attorney’s office. The sheriff’s reports were accurate but incomplete, according to Eric Hogue, court administrator for the 22nd Judicial District.

Montezuma County Undersheriff Lynda Carter said she believed both background checks conducted by the department were complete. She said the sheriff’s office conducts all checks the same way.

Hogue said the original background check conducted by the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office correctly identified the burglary suspect by date of birth and Social Security number, but the report didn’t contain the defendant’s criminal history. The court ordered the sheriff’s office to conduct a second background check, but it too lacked some history, Hogue said.

The background check conducted by the sheriff’s office was included in the court’s case file, which District Court Judge Todd Plewe utilized to modify the suspect’s bond conditions. On Thursday, March 13, Plewe granted a defense counsel request to remove a GPS monitoring system from the defendant.

At the earlier hearing, confusion was compounded when Durango defense attorney Rae Randolph realized the district attorney’s background check used the wrong date of birth, height, weight and social security number to identify her client, Brent Walker, the suspect in the case.

Without accurate information, Randolph said, she can’t offer her client a proper defense.

“As the district’s chief law enforcement officer, the district attorney has an obligation to provide factual information in discovery,” said Randolph. “It’s crucial that the discovery is accurate.”

District Attorney Will Furse admitted that the wrong criminal history was submitted to defense counsel. He said that when entering the suspect’s information into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, the program automatically retrieved several defendants as close matches.

“We provided the wrong information in discovery,” said Furse. “We should have reviewed the material more closely.”

Randolph said Furse’s report included disparities in age, hometown, and height of her client.

Plewe isn’t privy to discovery materials, Hogue said.

Walker and two other defendants were charged last year in connection to multiple thefts. Court records allege the three suspects stole more than $20,000 in computer equipment, firearms, Native American artifacts and hunting equipment from multiple locations over several months last fall.

Facing two felony counts of theft, two felony counts of burglary and a single felony charge of criminal mischief, Walker is scheduled for an Aug. 18 jury trial.

To alleviate future confusion, Plewe instructed attorneys from both sides to stand in front of the courtroom podium to ensure all conversations were properly recorded. Prior to Thursday’s proceedings, attorneys routinely addressed the court from their respective tables, which included microphones, but do not accurately record the proceedings.