After charges dropped, Oak Creek Town Board member remains committed to serving | SteamboatToday.com

After charges dropped, Oak Creek Town Board member remains committed to serving

Jackie Saputo and Verna Whaley.

— With the dismissal of hate crime charges, an Oak Creek Town Board member said he remains committed to serving the residents of South Routt County.

"I was the victim of a false accusation," Bernard "Bernie" Gagne Jr. said in a written statement Thursday. "Not just any accusation, but that of racism. It is such an easy accusation to make, but one of the most horrible accusations that can be brought against someone, especially when it is not at all true."

The Routt County Sheriff's Office arrested Gagne on Sept. 24, and he subsequently was charged with four crimes: Class 5 felony bias-motivated crime, misdemeanor bias-motivated crime, misdemeanor third-degree assault and misdemeanor menacing.

Gagne pleaded guilty to a single count of misdemeanor harassment and was sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation, 48 hours of community service and $567 in fines and court costs.

"At great personal expense, I had to hire a lawyer and investigator to interview witnesses and acquaintances," Gagne wrote. "This investigation revealed that I have never been involved in racist behavior, and that I in fact have many friends and acquaintances who are black. Once the District Attorney had more than just the accusation, the charges were dropped accordingly. I am relieved at the final outcome, but I believe that the original charges should never have been brought in the first place."

Routt County District Attorney Brett Barkey was out of town and not available for comment Thursday.

Gagne was represented by Steamboat Springs attorney Kris Hammond. Hammond also was not immediately available for comment Thursday.

According to an affidavit filed with the Routt County Court, a woman contacted the Sheriff's Office on Sept. 17 and said her 17-year-old grandson had been assaulted by Gagne on Sept. 1. The teen told deputies he was leaving the Select Super Market in Oak Creek when Gagne stopped him and started threatening him, the affidavit states.

The teen alleged racial threats. Gagne then punched the teen in the face, the affidavit states. Gagne later apologized to the teen and shook his hand.

Gagne recalled the incident differently.

"I got into an altercation with a local teenager. … He was extremely insolent, defiant and taunting towards me. I lost my temper, and I was wrong. I have never denied the altercation, and had I been charged with harassment in the first place, I would have accepted that charge accordingly."

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com