by Eric Mullens
WALSENBURG — Over a period of two days, Amanda Daniels’ defense council presented a number of witnesses in a motions hearing seeking dismissal of charges against his client stemming from her arrest by Walsenburg police the night of May 17, 2012.
The motions hearing was held on Thursday, Jan. 24 and continued to Tuesday, January 29 in district court in Walsenburg and sought the dismissal of charges on the grounds of outrageous government conduct.
District Judge Claude Appel presided over the hearing in which defender Adam Schultz called both lay and law enforcement witnesses to the stand. Schultz also entered into evidence recordings of two 911 calls made that night; one by Maria Yanez and the other from Daniels herself. Also entered into evidence was the request and affidavit supporting a Rule 41-1 request for non-testimonial evidence from Daniels and the two police officers who arrested and fought with the defendant. Non-testimonial evidence may include DNA samples, hair samples and other trace evidence.
On the first day of the hearing, Schultz called to the stand Yanez, who has a companion case as a defendant in the incident; Shaylee Montoya, who was an eyewitness and whose home police were called to initially to investigate a noise and possible underage drinking complaint; Meghan Bobian, an eyewitness and Walsenburg Police Officer Rich Isnetto, who was one of the officers who fought with and arrested Daniels.
The lay witnesses testified on direct and cross examination to what they saw and their interaction with law enforcement after the fact. Testimony centered on allegations Daniels was the victim of excessive use of force by Officer Isnetto and WPD Cpl. John Salazar. The audio recording of Yanez’ call to 911 was played in court and Yanez cried as she listened to the call from the witness stand. Isnetto was questioned by Schultz about his actions and his training and knowledge of the WPD’s policies and procedures.
On Tuesday, Jan. 29, Walsenburg Police Lt. Kurt Liebchen, Police Chief James Chamberlain, Cpl. Salazar and Huerfano County Sheriff Bruce Newman were called as witnesses by the defense.
Newman testified his office opened an investigation into allegations of police use of force on a request of the defendant whom he spoke to on May 18, while she was in custody at the county jail. Schultz also questioned Newman extensively regarding allegations citizens have made to his office concerning excessive use of force by Walsenburg police. Newman said he has taken about a dozen such reports in the past few years, including specific allegations concerning Salazar, from that officer’s former spouse.
Chamberlain testified he asked the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to look into the police brutality allegations and he said that agency did not find enough evidence to move forward with charges. Newman, on the other hand, said he has gone to the state agency a number of times concerning citizen allegations against the police department and nothing has come of it.
Much testimony was also elicited concerning a follow-up police report written by Salazar, asking for possible criminal prosecution of sheriff’s deputies for collecting and not turning over evidence in the police department’s investigation of Daniels. Schultz moved forward with the theory there were two investigations ongoing by May 18; the police department’s investigation of Daniels, and the sheriff’s office investigation of allegations of excessive force by Isnetto and Salazar.
Testimony revealed that physical evidence tested by the CBI, was not obtained until days after the incident and included both officer’s flashlights and testing for blood, saliva and hair evidence from the backseat of Isnetto’s patrol car. City police commanders were questioned regarding how evidence and witnesses statements were obtained.
Members of the sheriff’s office, namely Lt. Milan Rapo, Detective Sgt. Craig Lessar and the sheriff himself, collected physical evidence at the Stacy Drive scene the day after the incident. City police did not collect evidence and Chamberlain and Salazar both testified on cross examination that wasn’t done the night of the incident because both officers were hospitalized. Isnetto and Salazar were the only two city officers on duty that night. Chamberlain said he was called back to the city from air force reserve training and arrived in Walsenburg at about 4 am May 18. Liebchen said he was not brought into the case until the following Monday when he had come back on duty for his regular shift.
Daniels faces felony charges of assault and attempt to disarm a police officer. It is alleged that while fighting on the ground with Salazar she attempted to pull his duty pistol from his holster. Salazar testified he had to repair the thumb-break, the small strap that holds a pistol in place in the holster, after the incident due to the stress put on the leather by Daniels. Salazar testified that Daniels pulled the pistol about one inch up inside the holster, but never got the gun all the way out. Isnetto testified he saw Daniels’ hand on and near Salazar’s holster as they fought on the ground.
None of the other eyewitnesses testified they saw Daniels go for the officer’s weapon.
A dismissal of the charges at this point in the case would be nearly precedent-setting in Colorado, Shultz admitted to the judge. But he called the police department’s actions “a sham of an investigation” and pointed out the days-long delay before state investigators came to Walsenburg to test and collect physical evidence from police and the police department’s failure to collect physical evidence from the scene.
Judge Appel took the defense motion under advisement and did not enter a ruling on record on Tuesday. He is expected to rule on the motion in the near future.
Daniels’ jury trial date has been set for April 8, 2013.
Gary M. Vezzani was elected Walsenburg’s mayor in Tuesday’s special mayoral election/recall vote. Preliminary results announced Tuesday night show that both Nick Vigil in Ward