Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comments from Sheriff Wiggins and a Routt County commissioner
Former Steamboat Springs Police Department Officer Kristin Bantle is taking Routt County Sherriff Garrett Wiggins and the Board of Commissioners to court.
Claiming the sheriff unlawfully leaked confidential information about her past drug use to the city of Steamboat Springs as part of a plan to get her fired from her job, Bantle’s attorney on Friday filed a lawsuit against Wiggins, the Sheriff’s Office and the commissioners in U.S. District Court.
The lawsuit pits a former officer turned whistleblower, who thinks her confidentiality was violated against the county’s top law enforcement official, who was so concerned by Bantle’s drug use that he found a way to disclose it despite a warning from legal counsel that it could expose the county to a lawsuit.
Bantle claims Wiggins’ actions last year resulted in her dismissal from the police department, a loss of future employment opportunities, harm to her reputation, humiliation and severe emotional distress.
The lawsuit also claims Wiggins improperly used his power as sheriff to interfere with her ability to serve as the city’s school resource officer.
Wiggins became aware of Bantle’s drug use when she admitted to it as part of an unsuccessful application to join the Sheriff’s Office in 2013.
Two years later, after he received complaints from his child and the child of one of his deputies about the language Bantle was using at local schools, the sheriff took actions that ultimately tipped off the city about Bantle’s drug use and resulted in her being prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office for allegedly lying on the employment application.
Bantle was quickly exonerated of the charge of attempting to influence a public servant by a jury of her peers following a trial late last year.
Some of Bantle’s drug use occurred as recently as 2012, when she was employed as an officer at the city’s police department.
On a pre-polygraph interview, Bantle admitted she had used marijuana near Christmas 2012, cocaine during summer of 2012, LSD, mushrooms and ecstasy while in college in the 1990s.
Wiggins has said he felt obligated to tell the city about the past drug use.
“I needed to inform the Steamboat Springs Police Department of the conduct,” Wiggins told the Steamboat Today in December. “I had to get that burden off my shoulder and into the hands of her employer.”
Bantle is seeking a jury trial on the claims her constitutional rights were violated after the information from her employment application was disclosed to the city.
She is also seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
“In addition to causing the termination of Ms. Bantle’s employment, Sheriff Garrett Wiggins interfered with her employment contract, caused the malicious criminal prosecution of Ms. Bantle for criminal allegations for which she was ultimately acquitted and took actions that intentionally caused Ms. Bantle emotional distress,” the lawsuit states.
Wiggins said Monday he would leave it up to the courts to decide whether the lawsuit has merit.
“We will let the judicial process play out, and I hope the entire truth comes out during this process,” Wiggins said. “There may be things that did not come out (during Bantle’s criminal trial).”
Wiggins said he could not elaborate on what details he felt were omitted during the trial. He added he could not comment at this time on the specifics of the lawsuit.
A Routt County commissioner said he wasn’t surprised by the lawsuit.
“We figured Ms. Bantle was probably going to file some type of an action,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan said. “We don’t, or I don’t, have any comment on the merits of her complaint at this time, and we just look forward to letting the legal process work things out.”
A message left for Bantle was not returned Monday.
In January, Bantle threatened to sue both the county and the city because of various grievances.
Her attorney wrote she was willing to settle her claims for $250,000, but she might seek damages in excess of $500,000 if the case went to trial.
Bantle complained to the city that she felt she was the subject of gender discrimination in a hostile work place. She noted she had been passed over for promotions.
Her complaints to the city management led to some changes at the department, including the use of body cameras.
An independent investigator ultimately found that a hostile work environment did exist at the police department for several years and gender-based harassment was likely occurring for more than a decade.
Steamboat City Council President Walter Magill said Monday it was his understanding the city has recently been working to settle with Bantle on her claims against the city.
Council has gotten some updates about the talks in executive sessions in recent months.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10