…or, for Whacking a Wapiti. That’s an elk, for the rest of us.
Back in 2012, a large bull elk begin roaming the streets of the Mapleton Hill neighborhood of Boulder, Colorado. Many Mapleton residents considered the large beast harmless, and a rather welcome presence in their neighborhood. They named him “Big Boy,” and enjoyed watching his forays against their fruit trees. Others just tolerated the animal: if there’s one thing plentiful in Boulder, it’s “tolerance” — just ask ’em. But three men saw a trophy for the taking. Most people couldn’t just up and shoot a tame elk in the middle of a built-up urban area, either for reasons of conscience, or out of concern for law and safety, but the three conspirators were cops: Sam Carter and Brent Curnow, Boulder city cops, and Jeff George, a Boulder County deputy. They figured that their badges would protect them from any consequences, and planned the hit by text message.
Carter, a military veteran, fired the shot on the night of January 1, 2013. Here he is, posing with his trophy.
Note the lights — including residential Christmas decorations (or, being that it was Boulder, Kwanzaa or Festivus, maybe).
Residents were alarmed, and appalled. So was the police leadership, when they learned that Carter and Curnow had lied to them in the immediate aftermath of the case. Text messages between them showed that the killing of the elk was premeditated. After they came under suspicion, they tried to destroy the evidence by clearing their incriminating texts.
All of the texts and calls from that night had been deleted on Carter and Curnow’s phones when they were seized for evidence, but investigators were able to obtain them from their respective cell phone carriers.
George from the first claimed that the two city cops had told him they were ordered to kill the elk, and has never wavered from this self-serving, if implausible, story. As we will see, his stubbornness has paid off. This is Carter, posing again, with George as photographer:
Both of the city cops were at first suspended with pay. Then, both men were indicted on a nine felony and misdemeanor charges each, and the Chief moved to fire them. The charges included:
…suspicion of forgery, tampering with physical evidence, attempting to influence a public official — all felonies — as well as unlawful taking of a trophy elk, conspiracy, a Samson surcharge, killing an elk out of season, unlawful use of an electronic device to unlawfully take wildlife and first degree official misconduct — all misdemeanors.
Curnow took a sweet plea deal for one “exploding” felony charge, and four misdemeanors. He was sentenced to 60 days’ house arrest and a year of probation; if he completes it (which should be happening within a month or so), his felony record will be expunged.
The case had a definite impact on the public’s perception of the police in Boulder:
“It’s a case that has struck at one of the most important things in any community — the ability to trust law enforcement,” [DA Stan] Garnett said. “We’ve been trying other cases where potential jurors said, ‘I don’t know if I believe a police officer because of that case of the elk.'”
Judge Butler echoed that observation, saying police officers need to be “beyond reproach.”
“It’s the breach of the public trust that’s the most egregious part of this case,” Butler said.
With Curnow out of the way, the legal system began whetting its incisors for a taste of Carter. The DA was more keen on Carter as a suspect — he had shot the elk, after all — and would not give him the same deal Curnow got. With the best deal on the table still leaving him a for-real felon (the DA says it never got to the point of an actual offer), Carter had nothing to lose by going to trial.
Meanwhile, his life plunged out of control. From being behind the badge, he wound up in front of it, again, busted for DUI. He scraped out of that with a suspended license, but was subsequently arrested again, again, for driving under suspension. Months after his felony indictment, the courts discovered he hadn’t surrendered his weapons as he’d been ordered.
The trial went badly for him. Curnow testified against him, as did a wildlife biologist. Jeff George and other Boulder cops testified against him, saying that he was in the habit of disabling his cruiser’s GPS to keep sergeants in the dark about his whereabouts. After ten days or presentation, the jury expeditiously convicted him on all nine counts. He could have been sentenced to six years in the state pen, but instead, the DA was reluctant to recommend more than a year. He told the Boulder Daily Camera that sending a cop to prison is “complex.” (They’re only slightly safer inside than kiddie diddlers; neither cons nor screws care a whit for a crooked cop).
Ultimately, the gavel came down on Carter, and he was sentenced to four years’ probation and 30 days on a work gang. The judge considered his lack of a prior record (the motor vehicle problems were subsequent) and his prior military service. But unlike his friend (or former friend perhaps) Curnow, he’ll be marked as a felon for life. He made an abject apology at his sentencing hearing. Neither he nor Curnow has been able to find steady work.
Oh, and George? Nothing happened to him. He’s still on duty at the county.
Maybe that’s why the elk have been staying in the hills this year.