ST. GEORGE — A Southern Utah sheriff and two of his deputies were charged in 7th District Court Friday with criminal misconduct for allegedly retaliating against a former employee and lying to state investigators to cover up their actions.
“It is never pleasant to bring charges against a fellow public servant, but when it is necessary, we will diligently do our jobs to assist the Court in holding them accountable,” Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a statement issued Friday.
San Juan County Sheriff Richard “Rick” Eldredge, 48, was charged with third-degree felony retaliation against a witness; two class A misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment and obstruction of justice in a criminal proceeding; and class B misdemeanor official misconduct.
Chief Deputy Alan P. Freestone, 57, was charged with third-degree felony retaliation against a witness or informant; class A misdemeanor obstruction of justice; and class B misdemeanor official misconduct.
Sgt. Robert J. Wilcox, 46, was charged with two class A misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment and obstruction of justice in a criminal proceeding; along with class B misdemeanor official misconduct.
On May 26, 2015, Eldredge was in the sheriff’s office parking lot with Wilcox, the firearms range master sergeant, to handle a newly purchased assault rifle that was in the back of a Sheriff’s Office truck, according to a probable cause statement filed in support of the charges by the Utah Attorney General Office Justice Division’s Special Prosecutions Section.
A person, described in charging documents as a “witness,” said he was “walking through the parking lot with his back turned to Eldredge and Wilcox when he “heard the click of the trigger pull, turned around and saw Eldredge pointing the assault rifle at him and heard Wilcox chuckle,” the report stated.
The witness, who was a San Juan County Sheriff’s Office employee, said Eldredge had “previously confronted” him, according to the statement.
During the initial investigation into the incident, Eldredge “failed to recall the incident,” according to the report. However, on Nov. 15, 2016, Eldredge “admitted that he engaged in the conduct directed at the witness.”
When the witness disclosed the sheriff’s conduct to the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, Eldredge assigned his chief deputy, Freestone, to conduct an internal investigation rather than have an outside agency investigate the claim, the report stated.
Freestone allegedly directed the witness to provide Wilcox with a written statement regarding the incident. When the witness told Freestone he was uncomfortable doing that, Freestone “noted that the witness refused to cooperate with an official investigation,” the report stated.
On May 19, 2016, Freestone conducted a recorded interview with the witness. Freestone then interviewed Eldredge and Wilcox but did not record their interviews and allowed them to hear the witness’ interview while taking their statements, according to charging documents.
“Freestone, to protect the Sheriff, did not conduct a proper investigation,” according to the Attorney General’s report. “Freestone’s investigation had incorrect dates, incorrect paperwork, and missing or no audio interviews. On May 26, 2016, Freestone closed his investigation, indicating that the alleged shooting range incident did not happen. Eldredge then used that result against the witness.”
When a special agent from the attorney general’s office investigated the incident in August 2016, Eldredge and Wilcox provided false statements regarding their conduct, the report stated.
While the Attorney General’s Office investigation was still active, Eldredge and Freestone falsely told the witness on Jan. 25 that “all investigations were concluded and found to have no merit,” according to the report.
The witness was then placed on administrative leave from the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office. On Feb. 25, the witness was fired “in retaliation for reporting a complaint.”
If convicted, each of the three could be sentenced to up to five years in prison and a fine up to $5,000. The misdemeanor charges carry a maximum jail sentence of one year for a class A misdemeanor and six months for a class B misdemeanor.
Friday’s charges come one week after the Attorney General’s Office charged the former Daggett County sheriff and four of his deputies for alleged misconduct at the Daggett County Jail, resulting in the Utah State Prison removing all of its inmates from the jail.
Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.
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