Defense: A plot against Wall | SteamboatToday.com

Defense: A plot against Wall

Brandon Gee

A disgruntled former deputy and a concerted effort by area law enforcement officers to frame Gary Wall led to the Routt County sheriff’s arrest last year on suspicion that he drove under the influence of alcohol, defense attorney Ron Smith suggested Monday.

The official outcome of a four-hour motions hearing at the Routt County Justice Center on Monday was a continuation of Wall’s losing streak in decisions related to the DUI charges. Senior Judge Cecil Wayne Williams denied two motions made by Smith to suppress evidence on claims Colorado State Patrol troopers lacked reasonable suspicion to pull Wall over and probable cause to arrest him the night of Oct. 27. Williams disagreed.

Regardless of Williams’ ruling, Smith’s cross-examination of troopers Melissa Fowler and Brett Hilling shed some light on the defense’s strategy when Wall’s criminal trial begins July 14. Smith repeatedly asked both troopers whether they had been in communication with former Sheriff’s Office deputy Elise Andres, whose employment with the Sheriff’s Office ended last year.

Andres ran the department’s ElderWatch program, a statewide program that works to reduce financial exploitation and other crimes against senior citizens. The program was disbanded by Wall last year. In defense of that decision, Wall said in July that Andres’ departure provided an opportunity to review the program and address accountability issues he was unwilling to specify. At that time, Wall said Andres resigned, but Smith referred to her departure as a “termination” Monday.

After an objection by prosecutor Anne Francis, Williams asked Smith how his line of questioning had any relevance to the legality of Wall’s traffic stop or arrest. Smith said any contact with Andres between her termination and the traffic stop would affect the troopers’ credibility. Both Fowler and Hilling said they knew Andres but denied having been contacted or tipped off by her the night of Oct. 27. Fowler confirmed that Andres’ husband, Jim Hinton, was in the area of the traffic stop near Casey’s Pond at U.S. Highway 40 and Walton Creek Road.

“I did see him during the contact,” Fowler said. “I saw him taking pictures with his cell phone.”

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Fowler said she did not talk to Hinton or know how he came to be at the scene of the traffic stop. Reached at home Monday evening, Elise Andres declined comment.

“I don’t want to be involved,” she said.

Smith also asked Fowler, and subsequently Hilling, whether they had heard anything prior to the traffic stop about Wall driving drunk or there being a plot to “get him” for it.

“During his campaign, it had been talked about that he had been seen drinking and driving,” said Fowler, referring to Wall’s successful 2006 campaign to become the county’s top law enforcement officer.

Fowler said she had never heard of any plot to bust Wall for such behavior. Hilling answered similarly.

“Several different people had mentioned to me that the sheriff drove drunk often,” Hilling said. “It seemed to be common knowledge.”

Hilling said some of those people included law enforcement officers but said he could not recall specific names. Hilling said he took the comments with a grain of salt, having been the victim of rumors himself.

Smith also asked Fowler and Hilling about their decisions to use cell phones rather than radios at some points during the traffic stop. Smith noted that there is no recording of their cell phone communications. Fowler said she chose to call the Routt County Sheriff’s Office to request a senior officer with her cell phone to avoid humiliating Wall over the airwaves. Hilling said he used his cell phone to call his commanding officer, Capt. Brett Williams, who was in Denver, to request guidance.

Wall did not testify at Monday’s hearing.

– To reach Brandon Gee, call 871-4210 or e-mail bgee@steamboatpilot.com

Timeline

Oct. 27

Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall is pulled over by the Colorado State Patrol at Walton Creek Road and U.S. Highway 40 for an alleged failure to dim his headlights. He is subsequently cited for driving under the influence of alcohol. Wall was returning from a Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association celebration. The State Patrol revokes Wall’s driver’s license because he refuses any tests of his blood alcohol level. Wall later appeals the revocation and is issued a temporary license while awaiting a hearing with the Colorado Department of Revenue.

Oct. 28

Reached on his cell phone while returning from a World Series game in Denver, Wall denies the charges: “I did not consume anything that would have affected my ability to drive.” Wall continues to affirm his innocence in the days following, but, shortly thereafter, refuses to discuss the charges any further. Wall and his lawyer, Steamboat Springs attorney Ron Smith, have not commented on the charges outside of the courtroom since.

Oct. 31

14th Judicial District Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James files a motion for appointment of special prosecutor, citing his office’s close working relationship with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office. The motion is later granted and Mark Hurlbert of the Fifth Judicial District is assigned the case. Hurlbert later assigns the case to one of his deputies, Karen Romeo.

Nov. 29

Romeo says she would rather reach a plea bargain with Wall than go to trial: “I’m not even sure we’re going to go to trial. I would hope not. I think both sides would like to see it resolved. Trials bring an uncertain result.”

Dec. 4

In Wall’s first court appearance related to the drunken driving charges, the case is continued after both the prosecution and the defense say their investigations are not complete. Routt County Judge James Garrecht says he will eventually recuse himself from the case due to the court’s close working relationship with the Sheriff’s Office.

Dec. 19

Department of Revenue hearing officer Art Julian upholds the State Patrol’s yearlong revocation of Wall’s driver’s license after a telephone hearing. In his decision and order, Julian writes that he found the troopers’ testimony more credible than testimony delivered on Wall’s behalf.

Jan. 16

Wall makes his second court appearance. Discussion focuses on Romeo’s request for a change of venue because of what she called “massive, pervasive and prejudicial” publicity in Routt County. Smith confirms that he will oppose the motion, but asks that Garrecht not rule on it because he didn’t receive a copy of it until just before the proceedings. The case is delayed again. Garrecht recuses himself from the case. Senior Judge Cecil Wayne Williams, a veteran of the Grand County bench, is later appointed to the case.

Jan. 18

Smith files an appeal of Julian’s decision to uphold the State Patrol’s revocation of Wall’s drivers license.

Feb. 13

In a court hearing, Williams denies Romeo’s motion to change venue: “I do not find them to be massive,” Williams said of Steamboat Pilot & Today newspaper articles Romeo submitted as a supplement to her motion. “I do not find them to be pervasive. And I do not find them to be prejudicial.”

March 4

In a telephone hearing, Smith says Wall is prepared to enter a plea in the criminal case, but all parties agree to reset that case to trail Wall’s appeal of his license revocation.

April 29

Williams reaffirms Julian’s decision to uphold the State Patrol’s yearlong revocation of Wall’s driver’s license. Wall pleads innocent. A jury trial in the criminal case is set to begin July 14.

June 9

After a four-hour motions hearing, Williams denies two motions to suppress evidence made by the defense, which claimed there lacked reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop and probable cause for the arrest. Williams disagreed.