Updated: February 28, 2014 at 8:18 am
As part of an ongoing investigation of a missing file at the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, Sheriff Terry Maketa abruptly ordered a commander who had just landed in Afghanistan in December as part of a project with the Army to return immediately, reportedly frustrating the Army and producing no leads in the investigation.
The change in travel plans was related to a file that the Sheriff's Office Internal Affairs staff reported missing from a locked drawer in a locked room where the office keeps investigations detailing misconduct in its ranks. The file was that of Bill Elder, a former sheriff's deputy now running for sheriff.
Maketa and Undersheriff Paula Presley, who was considering a run for sheriff, began an investigation of the file. The two did not question anyone in the IA office about the missing file for seven months.
The case of the missing file has political implications. Elder says he was never the subject of an internal affairs investigation - a claim IA logs support - and that the investigation is a witch hunt to discredit his bid for sheriff and clear the way for Maketa's chosen successor, former Sheriff John Anderson. Maketa has previously said that he thumbed through the file before it went missing, so he knows it exists, and he is trying to solve a crime. He said it is possible Elder supporters took the file.
In early December, the sheriff ordered lie detector tests for several staff members, including the commander who oversees IA, Bob MacDonald.
At the time, MacDonald was on a plane to Kandahar, Afghanistan as part of a team of local law enforcement invited by the commander of Fort Carson for a two-week trip to advise police there.
"We had spent months planning it, we had to go through all the processing, get shots, get ballistic vests and helmets issued, it was a process," said Fountain Police Chief Todd Evans, who was on the trip, along with Colorado Springs Police Chief Peter Carey and Deputy Chief Mark Smith. "It takes us four days to get there. The day after we arrived (Undersheriff) Presley tells the Army she wants Bob back on a plane as soon as possible."
Elder works for Evans as deputy chief of the Fountain Police Department.
MacDonald did not know why he was being recalled, and was surprised and embarrassed, Evans said.
The Sheriff's Office did not make MacDonald or Presley available for comment for this story. Spokesman Lt. Jeff Kramer said after The Gazette's previous reporting on the file that the office "will not entertain interviews with you due to your inability to report in a fair, objective and factual manner."
Elder was slated to go on the same trip to Afghanistan, but said he had learned his supporters at the Sheriff's Office were being questioned and thought he should stay in Colorado Springs in case he needed to answer to allegations about the missing file.
"We didn't know what was going on, and wanted to clear things up," he said.
Another member of the IA staff, Sgt. Rob Stone, resigned this week. Stone had been listed on Elder's campaign website as a supporter, but sent Elder's campaign a message from his work email two weeks ago asking to have his name taken off the list, saying he was receiving "uncomfortable and unwanted attention." He could not be reached for comment.
A criminal case regarding the file is ongoing.
When MacDonald was called back, U.S. Army representatives from Fort Carson contacted the sheriff and undersheriff to explain the difficulty of returning the commander early, Evans said. When the Sheriff's Office insisted the man be returned, it angered the commander who arranged the trip, Maj. Gen. Paul LaCamera, said Evans, who met with LaCamera multiple times during the trip.
LaCamera, who is in Afghanistan, declined an interview, saying through a spokeswoman, "The recall didn't affect the mission because we had other law enforcement officials who were able to accomplish the mission."
The Army put MacDonald on a military transport plane to Kuwait. There, because of delays stemming from his sudden change of plans and lack of a military ID, he was not able to fly out for three days. He was delayed again in Germany for a day, before taking Army flights to Connecticut, then Texas, where the Sheriff's Office paid for his flight home.
During the five-day trip, MacDonald was not told why he was being ordered home.
"When it was all said and done he only beat us all back by a couple days," Evans said.
On Tuesday, The Gazette requested documents from the Sheriff's Office through the Colorado Open Records Act related to the cost of MacDonald's return trip and communications between the Army and the Sheriff's Office. The Sheriff's Office said Thursday that the documents will be available next week.
Maketa said Thursday that he does not have to explain what he does with his employees.
"Commander MacDonald was on Sheriff's Office salary when he was permitted to travel to Afghanistan," he said in an email statement. "As Sheriff, it is necessary for me to make personnel related decisions on a daily basis which serve the operational interests of the office and do not require additional explanation."
Shortly after MacDonald returned, he was interviewed by the undersheriff and given a lie detector test about the missing file. The sheriff said the test did not show MacDonald had knowledge of the missing file. MacDonald still works for the Sheriff's Office.
Evans, who was an investigator for years at the Sheriff's Office, said recalling a commander for questioning, instead of waiting a week, is highly unusual for this type of investigation.
"They know he is going to come back and the information he gives when he comes back isn't going to change," Evans said. "It's not like anyone is bleeding to death and they need him now. "
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