June 5, 2014 Updated: June 6, 2014 at 12:43 pm
El Paso County employees seized several computer hard drives from the Sheriff's Office this week as part of an investigation into alleged misdeeds by Sheriff Terry Maketa and Undersheriff Paula Presley left abruptly, not saying when she would return.
Presley, who has been accused of having an affair with Maketa, left the office Tuesday evening, after El Paso County employees took the hard drive of her work computer. The county also seized the hard drives of the sheriff, two other female employees he is accused of having affairs with, and Sheriff's Office Commanders Rodney Gehrett, Mitchel Lincoln and Robert King, according to sources in the Sheriff's Office who did not want to be named because they feared retribution.
The commanders sent a complaint May 12 to El Paso County commissioners accusing Maketa of sexual improprieties, discrimination, budget improprieties and a hostile work environment. They also sent a complaint to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The sources said Presley was upset with being involved in the investigation and packed up boxes of belongings, including personal items and plants, and took them to her car. She has not been at work since. The Sheriff's Office said Thursday that Bureau Chief Al Harmon is acting undersheriff.
Reached by phone Thursday, Presley said she is taking leave for what she called "personal business." She refused to say how long she would be gone.
"I have sick time I am allowed to take, you don't report when someone else takes a sick day," she said.
The Sheriff's Office said she is "out of the office for medical reasons" and "will return when the medical reasons subside."
Former high-ranking members of the office said Presley has quit or threatened to quit multiple times, and always returned.
"She pulls this all the time," said former Undersheriff Larry Kastner.
Other women in the office accused of having affairs with the sheriff are still in their jobs. Dorene Cardarelle continues to work as comptroller, sources said, and Tiffany Huntz, head of training for dispatchers, on Wednesday interviewed for a promotion.
At a Thursday morning press conference, El Paso County Commissioners Dennis Hisey and Amy Lathen stressed that the investigation into the allegations against Maketa remains in its infancy.
Investigators with the Mountain States Employer's Council have begun gathering information, determining what questions to ask and whom to interview, they said.
"There are a number of things that need to be determined," said Lathen, the vice-chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners. "The complaints are complicated."
When asked Thursday if obtaining the computer hard drives has disrupted day-to-day operations in the Sheriff's Office, the commissioners said the only change has been an added step in IT access for staff to obtain certain information.
Lathen and Hisey said they have faith in Sheriff's Office personnel that normal operations will continue as usual.
Maketa has said he intends to remain in office, fostering what some employees say is an atmosphere of paralysis and turmoil. His term ends Jan. 13, 2015.
Sources say Maketa has rarely been in the office since the complaints were filed. On Wednesday, his weekly staff meeting, which typically last hours, ran less than 30 minutes, a source said.
Current and former employees say there is a vacuum of leadership that is causing tumult in the office. In addition to Presley's absence, commanders Gehrett, Lincoln and King were put on administrative leave the day they filed their compliant with the county.
"It's hurting us, we're not able to do our jobs the way we are used to. Decisions aren't being made," said an employee who did not want to be named for fear of retribution. He said the sheriff has been too preoccupied to even name acting commanders.
"We're not getting any direction or supervision from the sheriff or undersheriff because they are tied up," he said.
The employee said projects have been put on hold and employees are fearful.
"It's like Whac-A-Mole in there, everyone is just keeping their heads down and their doors closed."
While he remains in office, Maketa continues to draw his $111,000 salary.
Maketa refused to comment on Thursday. A statement from his office said "Sheriff Maketa feels it's inappropriate to 'play the case out' through the media as it would undermine the investigation and the efforts of the County Commissioners in getting the investigation in place."
Gazette reporter Matt Steiner contributed to this report.