Sheriff, 2 deputies charged for retaliation, lying

San Juan County Sheriff Richard "Rick" Eldredge and two of his deputies have been charged with retaliating against a former employee, then lying about the incident to state investigators to try and cover it all up. Eldredge, 48, Sgt. Robert Wilcox, 46, and Chief Deputy Alan Freestone, 57, have all be charged with retaliation against a witness, a third-degree felony; reckless endangerment, a class A misdemeanor; obstruction of justice in a criminal proceeding, a class A misdemeanor; and official misconduct, a class B misdemeanor.

According to charging documents the sheriff pointed an unloaded assault rifle at an employee and pulled the trigger. A person described only as a "witness" was walking through a shooting range parking lot as Eldredge and Wilcox were examining a new assault rifle that had just been purchased for the department. The witness turned when he heard the click of a trigger, and saw Eldredge pointing the assault rifle at him, while Wilcox chuckled. Eldredge had allegedly "confronted" the witness earlier. When investigators initially confronted Eldredge about the incident, he told them he "failed to recall" it had ever taken place, but eventually admitted in November of 2016 he had done so.

Eldredge compounded matters when he assigned his chief deputy, Freestone, to perform the internal investigation, which led to the witness being uncomfortable giving a written statement and was then deemed uncooperative with the investigation. And despite recording an interview with the witness, when Freestone interviewed Cox and Eldredge he failed to record the interaction. Freestone closed the investigation in May of 2016, saying the allegations had been found to have no merit.

On Jan. 25 Eldredge and Freestone lied to the witness, telling them that all investigations were concluded and found to have no merit, according to charges. Following that announcement, the witness was then placed on administrative leave, and eventually fired from the San Juan County Sheriff's Office in February "in retaliation for reporting a complaint."

If convicted, each of the men could face up to five years in prison.

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