Worries that potential co-conspirators in the murder of Colorado Corrections chief Tom Clements escaped criminal charges prompted the office of former Gov. John Hickenlooper to push corrections officials to hire a retired FBI agent to review the case and state policies, records and interviews show.
The retired agent submitted his findings to the state in August 2018, but his report has never been shared with the public despite the state paying his firm nearly $40,000. The handling of the case has long been a source of contention in El Paso County. Critics maintain El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder and El Paso County District Attorney Dan May mishandled aspects of the case.
Two people familiar with the high-level review said it was prompted by concerns that a lack of coordination by law enforcement officials allowed the statute of limitations to expire for potential accessory to murder charges against individuals that may have been complicit.
A top investigator in the Colorado Attorney General’s office triggered the review by expressing concerns. The review also dealt with whether investigators with the Corrections Department were following proper protocols for the use of confidential informants in the Clements murder investigation and other investigations, according to the two people familiar with the review who asked for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matters involved.
Lawyers for Gov. Jared Polis and the Colorado Corrections Department denied requests submitted under the Colorado Open Records Act from The Gazette that they make the report available for public review because they said it dealt with sensitive law-enforcement issues.
One person familiar with the review noted that after the review significant personnel changes occurred in the Colorado Corrections Department’s Office of Inspector General, which is in charge of investigations in the state prison system. The person said the OIG overhaul appears to have been related to the review ordered by the governor’s office.
The previously undisclosed hiring by the state of Kevin Knierim, a private investigator with the Englewood-based digital forensics and investigative firm Cyopsis, indicates those in the upper echelons of state government, including Hickenlooper, worried additional perpetrators might have escaped justice in one of the most notorious murders in Colorado history.
“Here’s the deal: If this investigation found nothing, why wouldn’t they release it to the public?” asked retired El Paso County sheriff’s detective Mark Pfoff, who wrote the majority of the search warrants in the investigation into the slaying of Clements. “One must assume that they found something that requires them to continue the cover-up.”
Theories about the March 19, 2013, murder of Tom Clements, assassinated on the doorstep of his Monument home by parolee Evan Ebel posing as a pizza delivery man, have long divided law enforcement in Colorado.
One camp maintains Ebel was just a lowly member of the white supremacist prison gang 211 Crew whose years in solitary confinement prompted him to commit a lone wolf gunman attack after his release from prison.
Others, including original investigators and former El Paso County Sheriff’s commander Juan “John” San Agustin, have derided that theory and pointed out that a Texas Rangers investigation determined that the murder was directed, coordinated and planned by the hierarchy of the 211 Crew.
Those who maintain there was a broader conspiracy have pointed out that a confidential informant told investigators that 211 Crew general James Lohr admitted he told Ebel to commit the murder. And they’ve further pointed to cellphone records that show 211 Crew leaders were in constant contact with Ebel before and after the murder.
“There was evidence they were communicating via cellphone both before and after the murder,” said Pfoff, who was responsible for examining the cellphone records for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office as an expert in cellphone technology.
Evidence found after Ebel died in a March 21, 2013, shootout with Texas lawmen after he crashed his car and shot a sheriff’s deputy in the forehead, chest and shoulder, revealed plans for a more wide-ranging attack. That evidence, discovered in Ebel’s black Cadillac DeVille, included a hit list of several additional high-ranking public officials that listed their addresses. Investigators also found a pipe bomb and bomb-making material with DNA from several unidentified individuals.
Agustin has filed a $10 million federal lawsuit contending public officials falsely arrested him after he contended they botched the investigation into Clements’ slaying. His ally, Pfoff, has criticized a lack of indictments against other 211 Crew members from May and also criticized Elder, who in 2016 announced he was closing the Clements’ investigation because he had concluded Ebel acted on his own.
Elder has since backtracked and reopened the investigation into a potential broader conspiracy. Elder, through a spokeswoman, declined comment and said the case remains active. May has long refused to discuss the case, maintaining he is constrained from doing so because it remains active.
“There’s no reason why a redacted version of this report can’t be released,” Pfoff said. “And if they didn’t find anything, they should just release that. I think this further indicates the incompetence of Sheriff Elder and District Attorney May because they’ve declined to bring charges.”
Charges for accessory to murder, which would carry a three-year prison sentence, can no longer be brought because the statute of limitations has since passed, though murder charges could be brought if sufficient evidence exists because there is no statute of limitations for murder.
The review by Knierim, conducted last year, probed whether the state should overhaul policies that guide investigators at the Colorado Department of Corrections, including their use of informants and how they share information with other agencies, according to invoices submitted by the investigative firm hired by the state.
As part of the review, Knierim interviewed former Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and lead investigators on the Clements’ murder investigation for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. Former El Paso County Sheriff’s Detective Jeffrey Nohr was among the individuals interviewed, records show.
Knierim, who has since died, also interviewed Larry Adkisson, the former lead investigator for the Colorado Attorney General’s Office; Jay Kirby, the former head of the office of inspector general for the Colorado Department of Corrections; and Kirby Lewis, the special agent in charge of major crime investigations at the Colorado Bureau of Investigations.
Knierim’s findings were submitted in August 2018 to the then-head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, Rick Raemisch, records show.
“The governor’s office has been involved in the discussion to conduct an investigation and recommended this company,” states the sole source procurement form, which states Raemisch was listed as the requester for the hiring of the investigative firm Cyopsis.
Hickenlooper declined requests for an interview and referred questions on the matter to the person who was his chief legal counsel when he was office, Jacki Cooper Melmed, who retains that position in the administration of Gov. Jared Polis. The office of Melmed, who did not return telephone messages seeking comment, has refused to publicly release the report because lawyers maintain it was prepared in connection with a law-enforcement investigation.
Raemisch also declined comment as did Coffman.
“I realize your frustrations, but it just isn’t my call,” said Raemisch in an email in which he explained that he would defer to the Corrections Department’s legal staff, which also declined to release the report.
Craig Bernard, the founder of Cyopsis, also declined to make a copy of the report available or to discuss it, saying it was up to the state to decide how to handle the report.
Knierim was given access to a secure Department of Corrections computer that allowed him to review all of the DOC investigative material connected to the Clements’ murder investigation, said Kellie Wasko, the former deputy director at the state Corrections Department.
Wasko, who said she coordinated Knierim’s activities, said she overheard him discussing how the probe was prompted by concerns from Hickenlooper and Adkisson, the former chief investigator for the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. Adkisson also has declined comment.
Wasko said she never saw a copy of the report that was delivered to Raemisch and does not know what it revealed or whether policy changes at the Department of Corrections were put in place because of the report.