It’s not about the elk.
In case you’ve been in Bhutan: Just before midnight on New Year’s eve, an on-duty Boulder Police officer, Sam Carter, allegedly blew away a six-point bull elk at close range with a shotgun (hardly your weapon of choice for a large mammal) near Mapleton Avenue and Ninth Street. An off-duty officer, Brent Curnow — who called in sick that night,
begging off duty for the next day — arrived and the two officers allegedly loaded the massive carcass into Curnow’s truck, with help from Boulder Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff George, whom they had summoned via text message on his personal phone.
(Sheriff Joe Pelle told me the investigation remains open on George, but noted that his deputy reported the incident as soon as he read more about it in the media.)
Neighbors who wondered what all the commotion was about were informed by the officers that they had put the poor beast down because he was limping and had a broken antler — move along, folks, nothing to see here. Never mind that residents had noticed no such injuries and photographs of the dead bull showed an undamaged rack.
Subsequent revelations, made public by the Daily Camera’s Erica Meltzer, revealed that the brave urban hunters failed to report their alleged euthanasia to their superiors. Carter, captured gloating over his quarry in a neighbor’s photo, also called in sick for the next day. And Meltzer reported that Curnow operates a business, BuffaloPeaksTaxidermy.com. It appears that the officers planned to haul away their fish-in-a-barrel prey, butcher it and (surely) mount his magnificent crown of thorns to hang on a wall.
Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner, Pelle and District Attorney have constantly reminded us that the men are innocent until proven guilty. Meanwhile, the two officers are enjoying paid administrative leave — for five to six weeks, which is how long Beckner expects his internal investigation to take.
No surprise that neighbors who had seen the elk the past several winters are incensed. Many suspect that if they’d done the same thing, they’d have been arrested immediately. No five- to six-week vacation for you!
Beckner told me that his department’s investigation must follow on the heels of one being conducted by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which has jurisdiction in poaching cases. He also noted that paid administrative leave is the only fair approach in such a case.
“You don’t want to leave them unable to pay the mortgage or buy groceries” when the case is pending, he said. In addition, he said, police officers have protection against potentially false allegations, for obvious reasons, courtesy of union contracts and government regulations. And he noted, police officers are empowered to take down injured or aggressive animals, and that question is not yet answered in this case.
Fair enough. But this elk was neither injured nor dangerous, according to neighbors. Mark Rourke, the U.S. Mail carrier who was “trapped” by the bull on Dec. 26 wrote to the Camera on Jan. 8: “Our elk friend is getting a bum rap. At no time did I feel he was coming after me. … Did (the shooting officer) gaze into those bright, wondrous and innocent eyes before he pulled the trigger or did he shoot him in the back?”
I like the way KGNU commentator Dark Cloud put it on Jan. 9: This appears to be a case of “greedy bloodlust and macho selfishness by a police officer on duty who conspired to set up a poach of a trophy animal out of season and place who, along with accomplices, clearly lied to superiors.”
Neighbors have been called softheaded anthropomorphizers, absurdly grieving a mere animal. That’s unfair. Anyone who has a personal connection to an animal, no matter how slight, understands the pain that death can bring. It’s a brutal lesson that kids in FFA and 4H often learn: Keep your distance.
The violent death of such a noble beast is tragic. But the alleged police misconduct and violation of the public trust is downright disturbing. We put tremendous power and trust in law enforcement officers’ hands. When they decide they are above the law themselves, they should be held to a higher, not lower, standard.
Alas, the public perception is that officers often get away with more than your average schmoe. But whether Carter or Curnow is officially deemed guilty — and officials’ repeated lectures about due process sound an awful lot like they are preparing the public for exoneration, don’t they? — they no longer have credibility as “peace officers” with many Boulder citizens. I’d probably be arrested for that anti-First Amendment Boulder law “use of fighting words” if either one of them stopped me for speeding, because I’d give them a earful.
We’ll see what the apparently vigorous investigation by the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife turns up. But if these officers are deemed innocent, let’s hope union rules won’t prevent their superiors from turning them into permanent desk jockeys.