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Bantle v. Routt County Sheriff's Office

United States District Court, D. Colorado

February 16, 2018

KRISTIN BANTLE, Plaintiff,
v.
ROUTT COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, and SHERIFF GARRETT WIGGINS, in his official and individual capacity, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Marcia S. Krieger Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (## 49, 50), the Plaintiff's Response (## 57, 59), and the Defendants' Reply (# 61); and the Plaintiff's Motion to Restrict Access to Certain Exhibits (# 60). For the following reasons, the Motion for Summary Judgment is granted and the Motion to Restrict is granted, in part.

         I. JURISDICTION

         The Court exercises jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         II. BACKGROUND[1]

         While employed by the Steamboat Springs Police Department (SSPD), Plaintiff Kristin Bantle applied to be a deputy sheriff in the Defendant Routt County Sheriff's Office. Her application included a Personal History Statement, which was marked confidential in caps and adorned with asterisks. Question 9-6 of the statement asked whether Ms. Bantle had ever used “marijuana or any controlled substance (including amphetamines, barbiturates, hallucinogenic, hashish, cocaine, opiates, etc.) without a doctor's prescription”. Ex. C, # 49-3 at 19. Ms. Bantle stated that she had used cannabis a half dozen times in college. She had actually used cannabis and other drugs during college, in addition to cocaine and cannabis after college. Nevertheless, she certified at the conclusion of the statement that such information was true, complete, and correct to the best of her knowledge.

         After Ms. Bantle submitted her application, the Sheriff's Office required that she participate in polygraph and psychological examinations. Before the polygraph exam, Ms. Bantle completed a Pre-Employment Questionnaire detailing her drug history, stating that she last used cannabis at Christmas, cocaine the previous summer, and ecstasy in college. The polygraph examiner discussed Ms. Bantle's drug use before performing the polygraph exam. In that discussion, she gave the examiner information about her entire drug history that she did not include on the Pre-Employment Questionnaire; specifically, it was revealed that Ms. Bantle had used LSD mushrooms in college. In connection with the psychological exam, Ms. Bantle completed a Life History Questionnaire in which she stated she had not used cannabis for more than 20 years and had never used any illegal drug other than cannabis. She certified at the conclusion of the questionnaire that this information was true, accurate, and complete.

         Four days after the examinations, Undersheriff Ray Birch wrote to Ms. Bantle informing her that she failed the background-check portion of the application process. Undersheriff Birch informed Ms. Bantle that she failed because of her drug use and dishonesty on the Life History Questionnaire. Ms. Bantle inquired what would happen to the information about her drug history contained in her employment application. Undersheriff Birch told her it would go into a confidential file reachable only by court order or subpoena. Defendant Sheriff Garrett Wiggins was concerned about Ms. Bantle's drug use and admissions and sought to inform the SSPD, but decided not to on the advice of counsel.

         Two years later, while still employed by the SSPD, Ms. Bantle was working as the school resource officer for a local high school. Sheriff Wiggins became concerned about Ms. Bantle's presence at the school when his son, a middle school student, told him about her use of profane language. Sheriff Wiggins wrote an email to Chief Jerry DeLong and Captain Jerry Stabile of the SSPD, expressing these concerns. The email included this passage:

As a side note; several years ago Officer Bantel [sic] applied with our agency and during the background phase something was discovered that was VERY disturbing to me and U.S. Birch. This discovery immediately terminated her as an applicant and we pondered whether or not we should inform you of these circumstances. We did not know if this information would be considered as “Protected” or not so we checked with our legal counsel. Our attorney advised us that in order to avoid a potential law suit we should not inform you of this finding. To this day, we have said nothing but it has been mentally troubling for both Ray and I to keep this info from you. As much as I would like to inform you, I cannot and will not give you the details but having this knowledge gives me concern for her serving not only as a [law enforcement officer] but more so as a [school resource officer]. I tried to not allow this personal knowledge interfere with keeping an open mind about her service as a [law enforcement officer] but the recent reports of possible inappropriate behavior has [sic] given me new concern.

Ex. I, # 49-9 at 2. Based on the contents of the email, Captain Stabile responded that he had initiated an investigation into Ms. Bantle's behavior.

         Chief DeLong met with Sheriff Wiggins to get more information about his concerns. Sheriff Wiggins was “very vague” in elaborating, but stated that “Steamboat is well-known for its powder.” Ex. H, # 49-8 at 31:5-9. This, Chief DeLong understood to mean that Ms. Bantle had admitted to cocaine use. As a consequence, he initiated an outside criminal investigation into Ms. Bantle's possible unlawful activity.

         Two weeks later, the Routt County District Attorney served a search warrant on the Sheriff's Office and obtained Ms. Bantle's employment application file. The officer heading the investigation found information suggesting that Ms. Bantle had violated SSPD policy by using cocaine and cannabis while employed as an officer. Based on this investigation, Chief DeLong recommended that Ms. Bantle's employment with the SSPD be terminated. The Steamboat Springs city manager adopted and implemented the recommendation, and Ms. Bantle's employment with the SSPD was terminated.

         In this action, Ms. Bantle brings a claim against the Sheriff's Office and Sheriff Wiggins in his official capacity for deprivation of Fourth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the following claims against the Sheriff's Office and Sheriff Wiggins in his official and individual capacity: (1) malicious prosecution, (2) intentional ...


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