In the 15 months since former Boulder police officer Sam Carter shot and killed an elk on Mapleton Hill, the fallen elk has been the subject of songs, silent marches and plans for memorial benches. But sometimes lost amid the uproar over the elk's death from some and sighs of, "Only in Boulder," from others, an actual criminal case still looms.
"It would be a funny case but for the serious ramifications for the defendant and the sad end to that elk's life," said Denver defense attorney and former prosecutor Craig Silverman.
Today, attorneys will begin the process of selecting the Boulder County jury that will ultimately decide if what happened on New Year's Day in 2013 was criminal.
Carter, 37, is facing one count of attempting to influence a public official, a Class 4 felony; one count of forgery, a Class 5 felony; and two counts of tampering with physical evidence, a Class 6 felony.
Carter also is facing misdemeanor counts of first-degree official misconduct, illegal possession of a trophy elk with a Samson Law surcharge, conspiracy to commit illegal possession of wildlife, unlawfully taking of a big game animal out of season and unlawful use of an electronic communication device to unlawfully take wildlife.
If convicted on the Class 4 felony charge, Carter could be facing two to six years in prison.
Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett himself will be the lead prosecutor on the case, underlining the importance of a case involving allegations of serious misconduct by an officer in uniform.
"The people who enforce the law should adhere to the law," said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the state American Civil Liberties Union chapter.
'Should know better'
Prosecutors allege Carter shot and killed the elk near Mapleton Avenue and Ninth Street while he was on duty Jan. 1, 2013.
Another Boulder police officer, Brent Curnow, who had been scheduled to work, but called in sick that day, arrived in his pickup truck to haul away the carcass.
While Carter told police he shot the elk because he saw it was injured, a necropsy revealed no evidence of a prior injury to the elk, and dispatch records show Carter did not report the shooting.
Text-messaging records also showed conversations about killing the elk between Carter and Curnow almost 20 hours before the shooting.
While the elk's death was what drew much of the outrage and publicity, the felony charges relate to Carter's alleged attempts to cover up the shooting.
Carter did not report the incident or notify his supervisors he fired his weapon that night, though he told investigators he called in the incident and did not know why dispatch did not have any record of it, according to the affidavit.
Carter also applied for a road kill permit for the elk with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, saying the elk had broken an antler off, while investigators believe Curnow had sawed the antler off.
Silverman said both the tampering charges and the attempt to influence a public servant charge fall under the state's corruption statutes.
"All of this is designed to protect the sanctity of the law enforcement and judicial process," Silverman said.
Silverman said the charge of attempting to influence a public official will require "prosecution to prove intentional deception to try and lead a public servant to reach an inappropriate decision."
Added Silverman, "The key word is deceit. It's never nice to lie, but it's made criminal when you do it in an effort to influence the government or an agent of the government."
Silverman said Carter might also be facing extra scrutiny on the tampering with evidence charges because his training as a police officer would have made him aware of crime scene procedure.
"You cannot mess with a crime scene or the physical evidence relating to a crime," Silverman said. "That is a big no-no, especially for a police officer, to doctor the evidence. It's a crime for anybody to do it, but a police officer in particular should know better."
While the eight day trial is set to begin with jury selection today, attorneys on both sides of the case have already been busy on the case.
Judge Patrick Butler ruled that prosecutors would be able to include previous information about a deer Carter allegedly try to kill on duty in 2008, while he has yet to rule on a motion filed this week by prosecutors asking the judge exclude any evidence of "bad conduct" on the part of the elk before the shooting.
Carter also filed a motion asking to move the case to a different county on the grounds of pre-trial publicity tainting the jury pool, but Butler denied the motion.
The trial has already been delayed twice, including once in January after one of Carter's attorneys was hospitalized days before the trial was supposed to start.
Curnow has already pleaded guilty to one felony charge and all four misdemeanors in his case and was sentenced by Butler to one year of probation and 60 days of house arrest in September.
Curnow also received a two-year deferred sentence for the felony charge, tampering with evidence.