Plea agreement made in Mesa County election breach case

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A ballot drop box outside the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder’s offices in Grand Junction on Thursday, August 26, 2021.

A former elections manager who prosecutors say assisted in a security breach of voting equipment in a Colorado county has reached a plea agreement with prosecutors, according to court documents.

Sandra Brown, who was scheduled to appear in court Wednesday afternoon for a plea hearing, is one of two employees accused of helping Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters allow a copy of a hard drive to be made during an update of election equipment in search of proof of the conspiracy theories spun by former President Donald Trump.

Brown intends to plead guilty to attempting to influence a public servant, a felony, and official misconduct, a misdemeanor, according to a description of the agreement filed with the court. The deal, which must still be approved by a judge, also requires Brown to sign a “cooperation agreement” but the details of what she would be required to do were not specified.

Her attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In August, a second employee accused of helping Peters in the alleged scheme in May 2021, Belinda Knisley, pleaded guilty under a deal that required her to testify against her boss.

Knisley, who served as Peters' chief deputy, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of trespass, official misconduct and violation of duty in August. She was sentenced to two years of unsupervised probation.

Peters gained national prominence by promoting conspiracy theories about voting machines and lost a bid to become the Republican candidate for Colorado's secretary of state, who oversees elections, earlier this year. She is charged with three counts of attempting to influence a public servant, criminal impersonation, two counts of conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation, one count of identity theft, first-degree official misconduct, violation of duty and failing to comply with the secretary of state.

She has dismissed the allegations, calling them politically motivated, and has pleaded not guilty.

According to Brown's arrest affidavit, Knisley worked to get a security badge for a man Peters said she was hiring in the clerk’s office. Peters then used it to allow another, unauthorized person inside the room to make a copy of the election equipment hard drive, it said. Brown was present when the copy was made and conspired to misrepresent the identity of the person using the badge, it said.

State election officials became aware of the security breach when a photo and video of confidential voting system passwords were posted on social media and a conservative website.