Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs A year after his arrest, Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall was sentenced this week to probation for driving while his ability was impaired by alcohol and for prohibited use of a weapon.
After the sheriff's conviction in July, I used this column to call on Wall to resign. At the same time, I questioned the role of some in law enforcement concerning the sheriff's arrest when I offered the following:
"The circumstances surrounding the traffic stop of the sheriff emit an extremely foul odor. It's no secret Sheriff Wall is viewed by more than a few in police circles with the ultimate disdain reserved only for cops they think walk on the wrong side of the thin blue line. Suffice it to say, questions linger about whether the Colorado State Patrol's actions were beyond reproach."
In speaking about some who openly showed anger at Wall's election, I added, "This bunch has been itching to get the sheriff since election night, when talk of a 'bounty' on Sheriff Wall's head became public."
Now, documents of post-conviction interviews conducted by Wall's defense team raise questions about the circumstances surrounding the sheriff's arrest. Specifically, an interview of Kim McCullar conducted by private investigator Timothy Rison deserves further investigation. McCullar is a witness who states she was at the Comfort Inn when the sheriff was pulled over at the nearby intersection of U.S. Highway 40 and Walton Creek Road by the Colorado State Patrol.
The following three paragraphs are from Rison's report:
"Ms. McCullar said she was standing at the counter to check into the Comfort Inn when a man walked into the lobby and, after looking in the phone book, dialed a number on the courtesy phone sitting on the counter within feet of her. Ms. McCullar stated that she noticed the man because he was dressed very nicely and was 'good-looking.' Ms. McCullar said when the man started talking to the person who answered the phone, the man stated, 'Hey, Doug, we got him. He is being loaded into a State Patrol car as we speak. It worked.' Ms. McCullar said the man then laughed several times, ended the call, and walked from the building. When asked if she saw the man get into a vehicle, Ms. McCullar said no. Ms. McCullar went on to say she saw no other people with the man.
"When asked to describe the man who made the phone call, Ms. McCullar described the man as in his 40s, good-looking, taller, medium build, long dark hair in a pony tail, no facial hair, no glasses. Ms. McCullar went on to state the man was wearing black cowboy boots, a longer black leather, Western-style jacket and black pants.
"Upon asking Ms. McCullar why she is coming forward now, Ms. McCullar stated that she does not read local papers and thought nothing else about the encounter with the man until she was telling her boss, Doug Matthews, about the encounter."
Wall thinks the individual described by Ms. McCullar is Jim Hinton. Hinton is the husband of former Sheriff's Office Dep. Elise Andres, whom the sheriff describes as "a disgruntled former employee."
Wall saw Hinton at the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association event he was driving home from the night of his arrest, and he also spotted him at the traffic stop that took place near the Comfort Inn. Colorado State Patrol troopers testified that Hinton was present at the traffic stop and took pictures of the event with his cell phone.
However, according to another report by private investigator Rison, Hinton denies he was at the Comfort Inn. And, it should be noted that Doug Matthews, for whom Ms. McCullar works and first revealed her story to, contributed money to the sheriff's 2006 campaign.
Given McCullar's statement, Wall believes he now has evidence he was set up. He believes Hinton's presence at the traffic stop was not a coincidence. And, most seriously, he believes the Colorado State Patrol may have worked in concert with others to stop his vehicle after he left the Chamber event.
Given the sheriff's allegations and McCullar's statement, the circumstances surrounding the traffic stop should be subject to further investigation. As is his right, Wall is considering filing a motion for a new trial. If that motion is granted, the sheriff will have subpoena power to seek phone and other records that might assist his investigation.
But in addition to the investigative avenues open to the sheriff, the Colorado State Patrol should open an investigation surrounding the circumstances of the arrest and determine, once and for all, whether there was a coordinated effort on the part of some in law enforcement to exert blue justice.
- To reach Rob Douglas, email Rob.Douglas@Comcast.net