Special Report: Conflict grows between sheriff and former second-in-command

Audio: Listen to clips from investigation into former undersheriff

Elliott Wenzler
ewenzler@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 2/1/22

A heated conflict between the Douglas County sheriff and his former second-in-command — who is now running as a candidate to replace him — appears to be headed to the courts after a …

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Special Report: Conflict grows between sheriff and former second-in-command

Audio: Listen to clips from investigation into former undersheriff

Posted
 
A heated conflict between the Douglas County sheriff and his former second-in-command — who is now running as a candidate to replace him — appears to be headed to the courts after a lawsuit was filed against the current leader of the sheriff’s office.
 
Sheriff Tony Spurlock and former Undersheriff Holly Nicholson Kluth’s feud involves a mishmash of investigations and accusations including allegations of political scheming, domestic violence and deletion of personnel files.
 
The rivalry has come to a head now that Kluth has filed a lawsuit against Spurlock — who is term-limited — alleging he suppressed her First Amendment rights and violated employment law and internal policies when he demoted her in 2020 and fired her in 2021.
 

Politics at play

It all began with the 2020 election for Douglas County commissioner.
 
In September 2020, Spurlock, a Republican, publicly endorsed Lisa Neal Graves, a Democrat, who ran unsuccessfully against Republican George Teal. Internal sheriff’s office files show that in the days that followed, the county’s Republican Party developed a plan to publish endorsements from the sheriff’s office command staff for Republican candidates, according to documents obtained by Colorado Community Media through a public records request.
 
After being asked to participate in this plan, Kluth submitted a statement to the county GOP supporting conservative candidates, according to a Douglas County Sheriff’s Office investigation into the situation. She also posted that statement to her Facebook. When Spurlock learned of the plan and confronted Kluth about it, she deleted the post and withdrew her comments to the GOP.
 
Following the internal investigation, Spurlock informed Kluth that he found her to have been in violation of several sheriff’s office policies. He also accused her of using her position to influence other members of the command staff to submit statements. Kluth denies that.
 
In November 2020, she was demoted because of the incident.
 
Then, in May 2021, Spurlock fired Kluth, who said she was given no notice or explanation of why she was being let go.
 
“He terminated me because I disagreed with him on my personal politics,” she told CCM.
 
In an interview in November 2021, Spurlock said he fired Kluth because of “incredible poor ethics and bad behavior.”
 
Kluth filed to run for Douglas County sheriff in February of 2021 and as of Jan. 31 has raised about $13,000 more than her leading opponent, former Castle Rock police commander John Anderson, according to the secretary of state’s campaign finance website TRACER. 
 
While the election is months away, the four candidates have already begun campaigning. So far, the others running are Anderson, Daren Weekly — the captain of investigations for DCSO — and Lora Thomas, a Douglas County commissioner.
 
Kluth’s lawsuit against Spurlock was filed Dec. 21, 2021, and no court dates have been set. When asked for comment on the lawsuit, Spurlock said he did not have any.
 

Alleged file deletion 

Soon after she was fired, Kluth hired an attorney and requested her personnel file, according to DCSO documents. That’s when Spurlock initiated a criminal investigation into Kluth for allegedly ordering the deletion of part of her personnel file that showed she was the subject of a decades-old domestic violence incident report, according to records obtained by Colorado Community Media. 
 
Kluth claims that the investigation into the file deletion was retaliation for her pursuing a lawsuit against Spurlock related to her firing and demotion. 
 
“It’s absolutely not true that I ordered any files to be deleted,” Kluth said in an interview with CCM.
 
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, which was the investigating agency in the criminal case against Kluth regarding the file deletion, recommended in October that charges be filed against her for official misconduct. But the 18th Judicial District declined to do so, citing an expiration of the statute of limitations and an unlikely chance for success at a trial.
 
The deleted documents, which were recovered, date back to 1988 and include allegations from Kluth’s then-husband that she had argued with him at their home in Park County and then grabbed a Colt .45 pistol, according to Jeffco’s investigation file obtained through a public records request.
 
“She pointed it at me, and stated ‘I will blow you away if you interfear (sic) with my job,’” her then-husband wrote, according to a copy of the 1988 report.
 
In an interview with Colorado Community Media, Kluth denied all allegations from the investigation, stating she never ordered anyone to delete anything and that the Park County incident never actually happened.
 
Spurlock, who told CCM he is endorsing Weekly as the next sheriff, said in November he learned about the deletion of the 1988 Park County case after Kluth was fired.
 
Spurlock said he believes Kluth ordered the report to be deleted because she was trying to “cover up her past so she could be the sheriff of Douglas County.”
 

Domestic violence report

The Park County Sheriff’s Office report from May 1988 is listed as a “felony menacing” investigation and includes accounts from the responding deputy, Kluth’s then-husband and from another witness, whose name and relationship to the couple were redacted. Kluth later told CCM the other witness was her ex-husband’s mother. 
 
The Park County report was included in the Jeffco investigative file for the Kluth deletion case.
 
Raymond McNamara, Kluth’s husband at the time, told the Park County Sheriff’s Office that during the argument about her job as a deputy with the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, she said “`Don’t come any closer,’ `I will kill you and myself,’” according to the report.
 
“I pushed her and deflected the gun, she pulled the trigger and it discharged into the floor next to my leg. She started crying,” McNamara wrote.
 
Kluth, however, says this incident never happened and her ex-husband may have made this report because she had recently told him she was going to divorce him.
 
A representative from the Park County Combined Court said the office doesn’t have any record of the 1988 case. That could mean the case was never filed as a felony or, if it was filed as a misdemeanor, the case would be too old to show up in records, the representative said. 
 
A spokesperson for the Park County Sheriff’s Office said the agency no longer has any record of this investigation and a fire and a flood had impacted their office and may have destroyed the file. However, in December 1988, the sheriff for that county sent a copy of the report to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, according to a letter included in Kluth’s file.
Kluth says she was never contacted by Park County about the investigation.
 
Court records show that Kluth filed for divorce from McNamara about a month after the incident report was written.
 
“There’s absolutely no corroborating evidence of any kind. No follow-up investigation was done,” said Felipe Bohnet-Gomez, Kluth’s lawyer. “It was a smear against Holly in 1988, and the idea that she would somehow order this destroyed for some political reason or something, it just doesn’t hold water.”
 

‘Didn’t want it to disappear’

When Kluth requested her personnel file after being fired, the internal affairs department of DCSO noticed that the 1988 report involving Kluth was no longer in the digital version of her file and began an investigation, which was eventually turned over to JCSO.
 
When the investigators from Jeffco interviewed a hiring technician, who helped maintain the office’s personnel files, the employee said she had initially seen the 1988 domestic case involving Kluth when she scanned it into the office’s new digital system in 2016, according to the investigative file.
 
The custodian, Kathleen Moreland, told investigators it had stood out to her at the time because “it’s kind of something that you don’t expect to find in somebody with that high up of a position,” according to a recording of her interview obtained through a public records request.
 
The sheriff’s office maintains both digital and paper copies of personnel files, but when someone leaves the office, these versions are checked to ensure they mirror each other. Then, the paper copy is destroyed, Moreland told investigators.
 
After Kluth was fired, Moreland was checking the former undersheriff’s paper and digital files to make sure they matched when she noticed the 1988 report was no longer there, she told investigators.
 
The custodian then re-scanned the report to include it in the digital version and instead of destroying the paper copy — which was the normal protocol — she held onto it.
 
“I just wanted to make sure that the truth was there, in case. I didn’t want it to disappear into the abyss,” Moreland said in the interview with Jeffco. “Knowing that she was going to be running for sheriff, I just wanted to make sure that the truth would be found out … information needs to be known if it can be.”
 
Douglas County Sheriff's Office
Kathleen Moreland, a Douglas County Sheriff's Office staff member who handles personnel records, talks with JeffCo detectives about her decision to hold onto the paper version of Holly Nicholson Kluth's personnel file. Some names have been redacted by DCSO.

Who deleted the file?

When investigators reviewed the “audit trail” for Kluth’s file — which shows who has viewed, used or edited items in the digital system — they found that one of Kluth’s subordinates had deleted the attachment containing the 1988 report in April 2019, according to the investigative file.
 
In a recorded call with Jeffco deputies, retired Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Robert McMahan said Kluth had ordered him to do this, according to the recording.
 
“She was concerned about her hiring file,” he told investigators.
 
McMahan added that Kluth never threatened him to do the deleting but her “demeanor was threatening.”
 
“I mean you just didn’t cross her,” he said in the interview.
 
In an interview with Colorado Community Media, Kluth said she believes McMahan has “credibility issues” and he’s friends with the sheriff.
“I would say that he lied because it’s not true,” Kluth said.
 
Kluth said she hadn’t been aware the Park County report was in her personnel file. When asked why McMahan would delete something from her file, Kluth said she didn’t know.
 
Kluth declined to be interviewed in the Jeffco investigation, according to a letter from her attorney to the office.
 
“The allegations against Ms. Kluth are not just baseless — they are tainted with political retaliation, in violation of the First Amendment,” according to the letter. “They amount to an abuse of process for political ends, to which Ms. Kluth will not voluntarily subject herself.”
 
Douglas County Sheriff's Office
Robert McMahan, the former chief deputy for Douglas County Sheriff's Office who worked beneath Holly Nicholson Kluth, tells JeffCo detectives that Kluth ordered him to delete part of her file.
Douglas County Colorado, Tony Spurlock, Holly Nicholson Kluth, Douglas County Sheriff's Office, politics

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