Cops Face Charges in Killing of Elk

Cops Face Charges in Killing of Elk (ABC News)

ABC News' Clayton Sandell and Carol McKinley Report:

A mysterious shooting, police department denials and allegations of a cover-up culminated in the Friday arrest of two Boulder, Colo., police officers accused in the death of a large, neighborhood-dwelling bull elk.

Officers Samuel Carter and Brent Curnow were arrested Friday and released on bond, according to Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett.

The officers' arrest warrants set their bails at $20,000 each and came with this handwritten condition: "no hunting."

The officers are facing several felony charges, including attempting to influence a public servant, tampering with evidence and forgery. Misdemeanor charges include unlawful taking of an elk, official misconduct and conspiracy.

Many residents saw the shooting as just the latest incident in a department plagued by troubled officers. Over the last 18 months, Boulder police officers have been arrested for offenses ranging from DUI to attempted murder.

On New Year's Day, Officer Carter was on patrol in the Mapleton neighborhood when he spotted a large, male elk that appeared to be limping and had broken antlers, according to a department news release.

"In his judgment, he believed the elk needed to be humanely euthanized," the release said. "The officer dispatched the elk with one shot from his shotgun and called another off-duty officer to come pick up the elk carcass."

The off-duty officer, Curnow, took the animal to process for meat for his own personal use, the release said.

The killing of the large trophy animal then became a bit of a mystery, after Boulder police initially denied that their officers were involved. That's because, the department said, the two officers never told anyone about the shooting, as required.

"In this case, it appears that the officers involved did not follow standard procedures in alerting police dispatch, contacting a supervisor about how to deal with the injured elk or following up with a written incident report," Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner wrote in a letter to the community.

The officers were placed on unpaid leave and are still the subject of an internal affairs investigation, Beckner said Friday.

"We realize that this case has hit a sensitive nerve in the Boulder community, and I want to reassure our community that I understand their concerns and that I intend to hold these officers accountable for their actions," Beckner said in a statement. "If the allegations are sustained, the discipline for such allegations - including being untruthful - would typically be termination from employment."

Fellow officers told investigators that Carter talked about shooting the elk at a shift meeting on Dec. 26. Neighbors who were interviewed by wildlife officials disputed the idea that the elk was limping or otherwise unhealthy, according to an affidavit.

The two officers also face charges under Samson's Law, named after a massive bull elk that was killed in the Colorado town of Estes Park in 1995. Violations of the law carry fines up to $10,000 for illegally hunting trophy animals.

The killing of the elk prompted outrage among neighbors, vigils and even a "@MapletonElk" Twitter handle.

A family that lives at the home where the elk was shot told ABC News Denver affiliate KMGH-TV that the elk they nicknamed "Big Boy" was a bit of a neighborhood legend, often coming into their yard to snack on a crab apple tree.

"Everyone had different names for him," Lara Koenig said. "We called him Big Boy. Other people called him Rufus or Humphrey."

"He was a little aggressive at times; I think he just really wanted to eat," Koenig said. "He was a little bit lost sometimes. He used to wander down the back of all our backyards."

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