Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell is sued by former right-hand man

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Sheriff Jason Mikesell

Teller County Sheriff's Office

Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell faces a federal lawsuit filed by his former commander that alleges a litany of missteps, including hiring an officer who had shot three people in 10 months while at another agency; promoting a “bully;” ignoring evidence of a forgery, and misusing public funds by assigning sheriff’s employees to work for his private company, iXeros, on county time.

Filed in January by Greg Couch, the lawsuit is in the discovery stage, after which a trial is expected to be held next year. While no specific dollar figure has been cited in the litigation, one pleading noted Couch’s lifetime earnings could have totaled $2.5 million.

Mikesell did not return a phone call seeking comment, but an answer to the lawsuit filed on his behalf by a Greenwood Village law firm denied the allegations and then leveled claims against Couch’s job performance.

Couch’s allegations:

• Mikesell “did not know, or appear to care” about the background check of Brandon Victor, a former Pueblo Police Department officer who had shot and killed two people and injured a third in three shootings within 10 months while working for the Pueblo department. Victor resigned from the Pueblo force amid an internal affairs investigation in summer 2020 and was hired by Mikesell a year later.

On July 18, 2019, he shot a man who “lobbed a knife” at officers, the lawsuit says. On March 20, 2020, he shot and wounded a man after he approached a stolen car and the vehicle pulled forward. On May 15, 2020, he killed a man and seriously wounded a woman when he came upon a stolen vehicle with two occupants and fired into the car when it began to pull away. In the latter case, an internal affairs investigation found Victor “was not telling the truth” and that he had a blood alcohol content of .05, which is sufficient to charge someone with driving while ability impaired. Further, fellow officers complained about Victor’s “state of mind, demeanor and conduct,” including his comment to an officer, “I’ve already shot two people, I don’t have a problem making you my third.”

A lawsuit arose from one of those shootings, which city of Pueblo reports is pending.

Mikesell demonstrated no concern about Victor’s background, and the day after Couch told him about the officer’s history, June 21, 2021, the sheriff called Couch into his office and claimed he had missed meetings, was uncooperative with the county attorney and was “generally being paranoid,” the lawsuit says.

• In March 2020, Mikesell ordered Couch to “not cooperate with the department of Teller County Public Health and Environment because Sheriff Mikesell was opposed to the manner in which the local government was responding to COVID-19.” About that time, Mikesell reassigned Lt. Wes Walter as head of the operations divisions, instead of Couch.

“Fellow officers complained to Plaintiff [Couch] that Lt. Walter is a bully who was creating a hostile work environment for his employees,” the lawsuit says. Mikesell acknowledged he agreed and said to staff more than once that, “I need a bully in that position,” the lawsuit says.

At that same time, Mikesell removed Couch from overseeing the Emergency Response Team.

• On Feb. 21, 2021, Couch notified Mikesell that someone within the county government had forged a Board of County Commissioners resolution “and presented it to influence other public officials at a public meeting.” When Couch showed Mikesell his investigation details about the document and noted several felonies had been committed, including forgery, “Mikesell never responded,” the lawsuit says.

Asked the intent of the allegedly forged document, Couch’s attorney Sean Simeson of Englewood says via email, “We are still looking into who deliberately altered the resolution, but it was done with the intention of swaying the BoCC [Board of County Commissioners] vote on the county’s medical director.”

“Sheriff Mikesell began treating Plaintiff differently after it became apparent that Plaintiff was intent on investigating personnel complaints, cooperating with State/local government on the COVID-19 response, and generally rooting out corruption,” the lawsuit alleges.

That was a change from past practice of involving Couch in important events and contacting him several times a day, the lawsuit says.

• In March 2021, Couch learned Mikesell had engaged Teller County Sheriff’s Office employees in his private business “to sell drone detecting and control radar systems to the United States government” and directed them to work for his business, iXero, while in the course of their county employment. This, the lawsuit alleges, “constitutes an abuse of public funds.”

(It’s worth noting that Couch himself worked for Mikesell’s side businesses at one time and even oversaw some surveillance operations for Mikesell’s businesses. Simeson says Couch never clocked hours for iXero while on duty for the Sheriff’s Office.)

The Indy could find no federal government payments made to iXero for drone detection, though a site for government spending showed two payments made on April 30, 2020, to iXero for $1,000 each labeled “economic injury disaster grant” and “economic injury disaster loan.”

None of Mikesell’s other businesses could be found in databases of federal government contracts and payments.

The Indy published two articles — on March 10, 2020, and Aug. 4, 2020 — that reported in detail about El Paso County deputies being disciplined for working for Mikesell’s private company without proper authority, and about Colorado Springs Police Department officers being disciplined as well for working for iXero and using city resources to do so.

Mikesell alleges in his response to the lawsuit that while he “believed” in Couch “for a period of time,” that in 2020 “issues started to surface with Mr. Couch’s behavior and mental state.” He claims Couch was given to “large mood swings” and “erratic behavior,” which Couch attributed to ADHD medication dosages, financial difficulties and “stresses within his family.”

Mikesell also contends Couch “may also have been consuming alcohol to excess.”

On June 20, 2021, during a phone call Mikesell detected Couch’s speech to be “scattered” and that Couch indicated he was dealing with PTSD following the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Mikesell’s response says. (Couch was an officer with the Oklahoma City Police Department at that time.) The next day, Mikesell met with Couch and told him to submit to a “fit-for-duty evaluation.”

Later that day, Mikesell alleges in his answer, he was told that Couch was “walking down the highway with his shirt off.”

Couch saw the directive as retaliation against him for raising interdepartmental issues with Mikesell, Couch’s lawsuit says, and he resigned due to “conditions … so difficult and intolerable that he had no other choice.”

Asked about the allegation of displaying erratic behavior, Simeson says:

“If stressing the importance of proper use of county resources, protection of the county from negligent hiring consequences, adequately responding to employee concerns about the work environment, and attempting to maintain a sense of integrity in the Sheriff’s Office is ‘erratic’ or ‘strange’ then Mr. Couch is fine with being described that way. When Mr. Couch raised these concerns with Sheriff Mikesell, he was blown off each and every time, reflecting the Sheriff’s poor judgment and shows he does not value honor in policing.”

Couch’s lawsuit alleges claims under the whistleblower statute, deprivation of rights law, First Amendment, and due process rights laws.

Legal maneuvering in the case has involved the recusal in August of U.S. District Judge William Martinez, who filed a complaint several years ago against one of Mikesell’s lawyers in another case “as a result of her conduct [during a] trial.” The state’s judicial Official of Attorney Regulation Counsel shows no public disciplinary history for the attorney.

Couch served with the Sheriff’s Office for roughly 6.5 years, interrupted by 2.5 years as an investigator with the 4th Judicial District’s prosecutor’s office. He was paid about $93,500 a year as a Teller County commander. He’s since moved to Oklahoma, according to his LinkedIn page.

The pleadings:

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