by Eric Mullens
WALSENBURG — A felony arrest warrant was prepared in November following the conclusion of the investigation of criminal mischief by Walsenburg police concerning the illegal cutting down of two honey locust trees located on Main Street.
Walsenburg Police Chief James Chamberlain said the affidavit and warrant were done once the ownership of the trees had been established. The Main Street trees were planted some years ago by the Walsenburg Downtown Revitalization Committee, and the chief said, while the trees were planted on a city right of way (the sidewalk) the ownership of the trees was never transferred to the city and thus remained the property of the economic development group.
Walsenburg Police Lieutenant Kurt Liebchen conducted the investigation that stemmed from an incident on September 30, 2011 where two trees were felled in the 600 block of Main Street.
Liebchen said in his affidavit, ‘by the time of discovery, two trees had already been cut down and third was in the process.” The original reporting party identified Richard McEntee as the person cutting down the trees. McEntee is a part-time Huerfano County resident and real estate developer. On October 25, 2011 Liebchen was assigned to investigate the incident.
The affidavit said the investigation disclosed: the trees in question were part of a larger order that had been planted in early 1985, after purchase from a legal district known as the Walsenburg Downtown Revitalization Committee and that after purchase, a verbal agreement was reached with the city to maintain those trees which has been ongoing for the prior 26 years and remains in place today. The affidavit further said, it was claimed by the representatives of the committee that the trees were still theirs and that they did not consent to their removal. Liebchen discussed the issue with a city official who said the city had a proprietary interest in the trees and did not consent to their removal by McEntee.“ As such your affiant (Liebchen) believes that both entities are co-victims in the case.
The warrant charges criminal mischief $1,000 to $19,999 and is a class four felony.
The value of the trees, cost of replacement and cost of removal of the remnants of the old trees was factored into the charge and an estimated value of $600 per tree was established; which put the total amount of damage at $1,200. The affidavit said regarding the dollar amount, “this is officer opinion only, and not official.”
The affidavit also said during a non-custodial interview, McEntee told Liebchen that he had permission to cut the trees down, but this claim has not been able to be substantiated.
McEntee spends part of his time at his residence in Hawaii and attempts through Facebook and the Hawaiian office of Black Diamond Park to reach him for a comment were unsuccessful Tuesday.
Huerfano County Sheriff Bruce Newman said Tuesday, Jan. 17, that he was not aware of any contact between McEntee and the sheriff’s office and didn’t know if McEntee was aware of the warrant or not.
It is believed the warrant would have limited extradition and most likely could not be served until the defendant returned to the Huerfano County area.