Jeffco DA says Edgewater Police Department had culture of retaliation and “bending the rules”

Jefferson County Court
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The Jefferson County Government Center, including county courts, June 12, 2023.

Jefferson County’s lead prosecutor has asked for state help investigating the Edgewater Police Department after discovering five years of misconduct and incidents where officers violated the constitutional rights of citizens.

In a letter sent to Attorney General Phil Weiser’s office this week, Jefferson County District Attorney Alexis King said that in an investigation into a former Edgewater police officer, who faces several felony charges, unearthed a larger picture of problems at the agency between 2016 and 2021. 

That includes an internal culture “fraught with bullying, retaliation and bending the rules,” King said, in a statement.

“The events that have taken place, as well as those surrounding the pending cases, go against policies that are in place to protect both the community and the officers,” King said. “These events and allegations of misconduct must be addressed with accountability to ensure they do not recur in the future.”

Specifically, King detailed five instances where officers had "questionable" authority to engage with a suspect and make an arrest and some of those events were coupled with police entering homes, using force, including Tasers, the letter to Weiser said.

King also said there were reports of altered documents, evidence tampering and destruction of evidence during a "questionable death investigation."

The district attorney has requested a patterns and practices investigation into the agency by Weiser’s office. 

On Thursday, Weiser’s office said they are “aware of the referral from DA King and will take it under consideration.”

The attorney general has launched only one other patterns and practices investigation since being given the power in a 2020 police reform law passed by state lawmakers in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minnesota. This is the first time that an elected prosecutor has asked the attorney general for his help in investigating one of their own law enforcement agencies. The Edgewater Police Department has 20 sworn officers and one vacancy.

Weiser’s 2020 and 2021 investigation into the Aurora Police Department found practices of racially biased policing and yielded a consent decree where the agency is supposed to make marked improvements within certain timeframes. 

Edgewater Police Chief Eric Sonstegard started last year  – after all of the alleged bad conduct occurred. 

In an interview Thursday, Sonstegard said he took the helm after the agency didn’t have a chief for more than six months. 

He said he has tried to make improvements in an agency that needed direction, including implementing body-worn cameras, which are now required in all law enforcement agencies in Colorado. He also upgraded a computer system that tracks uses of force, vehicle pursuits and investigations.

Sonstegard said he didn’t have many details beyond the allegations outlined in the letter to Weiser’s office because much of them came out through secretive grand jury testimony. He said, while he wasn’t there during the years of misconduct, he is trying to put the agency on a better footing.

“It’s devastating to me personally and professionally to have Edgewater’s name drug through the mud,” he said. “I know what my role is, and I believe in my higher purpose.”

He said he didn’t believe in deflecting responsibility, but many of the people in charge when the alleged misconduct occurred aren’t there anymore.

“I think it’s a really good thing I’m here,” he said. “I told my folks this morning all we can do is come here every single day and believe our actions and our words are making Edgewater a better place. We can’t do anything about what happened years ago.”

Sonstegard also said the allegations in the letter, particularly around bullying, are “pathetic” in nature.

“That type of behavior would never ever be tolerated if I would have been chief,” he said. 

King’s probe into the Edgewater Police Department started in September 2021 after a police officer reported a handful of misconduct allegations within the department. At that same time, another police chief from the Blackhawk Police Department called King’s office and asked for a formal investigation into the actions of the former Edgewater police chief. 

That Blackhawk chief, Michelle Moriarty, said that Edgewater’s police chief was not transparent to her during the hiring process after one of her officers was charged with unlawful sexual conduct. The officer, Nathan Geerdes, worked at Edgewater before being hired in Blackhawk. 

King’s office filed 10 additional felony charges this week against Geerdes after reviewing his behavior while working in Edgewater. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. 

"The Edgewater Police Department is home to many dedicated, hardworking police officers who serve and protect their community with integrity," King said in a statement. "Still, I am aware of events that undermine the trust that is critical for public safety and our justice system, and … I believe that a pattern or practice review is a necessary catalyst for change, both for the community and the new chief of police, who has been fully cooperative with our investigation.”