Embattled Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters has been indicted by a grand jury on a mix of felony and misdemeanor charges, including allegations of attempting to influence a public servant and criminal impersonation.
The Republican was indicted on 10 counts stemming from her actions around an election system software update conducted in May, according to prosecutors. If convicted, she could be sentenced to prison. The indictment was returned on March 8.
Peters turned herself in on March 9 at the Mesa County jail. Her bond is set at $500,000.
Peters has been under investigation since last summer after she allegedly facilitated a security breach of her county’s election system. Peters has cast baseless doubt on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election and aligned herself with MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, one of the nation’s most well known 2020 election conspiracy theorists.
Peters is running this year to unseat Democratic Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold. If Peters is successful, she would be the state’s top elections official.
The indictment does not preclude Peters from running to be Colorado’s secretary of state. If she’s convicted and sentenced to prison, however, she may not be able to serve in the role.
The leaders of the Colorado GOP, in reaction to the indictment, called Peters to drop out of the secretary of state’s race.
“It is our belief, as leaders of the Colorado Republican Party, that any Republican candidate who is indicted with felonies by a grand jury and who will be charged by a Republican district attorney should suspend their campaign while they undergo the legal challenges associated with those indictments,” Colorado GOP Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown, Vice Chairwoman Priscilla Rahn and Secretary Marilyn Harris said in a joint written statement on March 9.
The statement added: “The Republican Party is the party of law and order and we need every Republican voter focused on getting Republicans and constitutional conservatives elected across Colorado in 2022. Today, we are asking Clerk Peters to consider what is best for the Republican Party in Colorado and act accordingly as she avails herself of our judicial system.”
Matt Crane, the head of the Colorado County Clerks Association, said the organization is “devastated by this breach of trust.”
“County clerks are committed to our role as the guardians of our most sacred right as Americans, the right to vote in free, fair, and secure elections,” Crane said in a written statement. “This news has encouraged our association to redouble our efforts to push for changes that will both ensure better training for all election officials as well as increase penalties for those election officials who choose to break the law.”
The Mesa County District Attorney’s Office says Peters is charged with three counts of attempting to influence a public servant, a Class 4 felony; one count of attempting to influence a public servant, a Class 5 felony; one count of criminal impersonation, a Class 6 felony; one count of conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation, a Class 6 felony; one count of identify theft, a Class 4 felony; and one count of first-degree official misconduct, a Class 2 misdemeanor.
She is also charged with one count each of violation of duty and failing to comply with the secretary of state, which are unclassified misdemeanor offenses.
“This investigation is ongoing, and other defendants may be charged as we learn more information,” Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein and Attorney General Phil Weiser said in a joint statement. “We remind everyone that these are allegations at this point and that they are presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
The grand jury probe began in January. Federal authorities are also investigating Peters, who in a statement called the indictment “politically motivated.”
Peters also rebuffed calls from her own party to abandon her bid to become secretary of state bid.
Deputy Mesa County Clerk Belinda Knisley was also indicted. She is accused of three counts of attempting to influence a public servant and one count each of attempting to influence a public servant, violation of duty and failing to comply with the secretary of state.
Knisley turned herself in on Wednesday afternoon to the Mesa County jail as well.
The charges stem from a May 25, 2021, election system software update at the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder’s Office conducted by the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. Following the update, Mesa Count election system passwords were posted on the internet.
The indictment says that before the software update, Peters contacted a man named Gerald Wood and told him that she may need him to do some “contract work” on Mesa County’s election system. Specifically, Wood told investigators that Peters said the work involved backing up Dominion Voting Systems machines.
Wood says he told Peters he had no familiarity with the machines, the indictment says, but that she started the process of getting him a Mesa County access badge.
Wood obtained a county access badge on May 19, but returned the badge on the same day and “was never hired by Mesa County in any capacity” and never did “any work for Mesa County,” the indictment says.
On May 23, however, Wood’s access badge was used to access secure Mesa County election offices, along with the badges assigned to Peters and Knisley, authorities say.
Security cameras in the area were disabled at the request of Knisley.
Then, on May 25, the day of the software update, Peters introduced a man she called Gerald Wood to a state elections worker. Except the indictment says it wasn’t actually Wood.
“Mr. Wood testified that he did not go to the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder’s Office in Grand Junction on May 23 or May 25 and did not use the access badge that he had previously turned over to Ms. Knisley on May 19,” the indictment says. “The grand jury was presented with evidence which corroborated Mr. Wood’s sworn testimony regarding his whereabouts on both May 23 and May 25.”
The indictment does not make clear who the man purporting to be Gerald Wood was.
The software update was supposed to be attended only by members of the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder’s Office.
Additionally, Peters is accused of contempt of court for allegedly using an iPad to film a court hearing in a separate case against Knisley. She is also accused of obstructing a peace officer and obstructing government operations for her interactions with investigators who were trying to seize the iPad.
Griswold, the secretary of state, has filed a lawsuit seeing to block Peters from having an oversight role in Mesa County’s 2022 elections.
Separately, the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office is investigating Elbert County Clerk Dallas Schroeder, a Republican, for allegedly making a copy of his election system hard drive and then giving copies to “unauthorized people.” That probe is ongoing.
This story is from The Colorado Sun, a journalist-owned news outlet based in Denver and covering the state. For more, and to support The Colorado Sun, visit coloradosun.com. The Colorado Sun is a partner in the Colorado News Conservancy, owner of Colorado Community Media.