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Grand jury indicts Mesa County clerk Tina Peters in election tampering

A grand jury also indicted Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley after an investigation into election equipment tampering and official misconduct.

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — A Mesa County grand jury on Tuesday returned a 13-count indictment against Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters (R) and Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley related to the investigation into election equipment tampering and official misconduct.

Peters was indicted on 10 counts and Knisley on six. Both were under investigation related to their involvement in a 2021 data security breach with the county's election equipment, according to the indictment.

Peters and Knisley "devised and executed a deceptive scheme which was designed to influence public servants, breach security protocols, exceed permissible access to voting equipment, and set in motion the eventual distribution of confidential information to unauthorized people," according to the indictment.

Peters turned herself in around 4 p.m., and Knisley turned herself in about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to the Mesa County Sheriff's Office. The court has set a $500,000 cash-only bond for each of them.

Peters faces 10 counts:

  • Three counts of attempting to influence a public servant
  • Conspiracy to commit attempting to influence a public servant
  • Criminal impersonation
  • Conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation
  • Identity theft
  • First-degree official misconduct
  • Violation of duty
  • Failing to comply with the Secretary of State
Credit: Mesa County Sheriff's Office
Tina Peters.
Credit: Mesa County Sheriff's Office
Belinda Knisley turned herself into the Mesa County Detention Facility on Wednesday.

Knisley faces six counts:

  • Three counts of attempting to influence a public servant
  • Conspiracy to commit attempting to influence a public servant
  • Violation of duty
  • Failing to comply with the Secretary of State

Of those charges, Peters faces seven felonies and three misdemeanors, and Knisley faces four felonies and two misdemeanors.

According to the indictment, Peters and Knisley violated state rules to get an unknown man into the May 25 and 26, 2021, in-person systems upgrade of the county's Dominion Voting Systems equipment for the November 2021 election.

Secretary of State (SOS) rules specify that only SOS representatives, Dominion Voting experts and a few designated county elections staff may be present for the upgrade, which is known as a "trusted build." No members of the public are allowed, according to the indictment.

Peters and Knisley had security cameras turned off and had county staff create access for a temporary employee to be present at the upgrade. The access was designated for Gerald "Jerry" Wood, whom Peters contacted for potential contract work on the Dominion Voting machines.

Wood testified that he met once with Peters and Knisley before the upgrade and then returned an access badge that was created for him. He never worked for Mesa County in any capacity and wasn't present during the "trusted build," but an unknown person used his badge to attend the upgrade, according to the indictment.

In early August, the SOS learned of a security breach in which images of the Mesa County election management system and related passwords were posted to the internet, the indictment says.

Peters' campaign released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying the indictment was politically motivated.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said in a statement that "every eligible Coloradan – Republican, Democrat, and Unaffiliated alike – has the right to make their voice heard in safe, accessible, and secure elections. To do that, we need election administrators who are committed to following the law and election rules. Officials tasked with carrying out elections do so in public trust and must be held accountable when they abuse their power or position."

Matt Crane, executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, said in a statement that it was clear that Peters had violated her oath of office and likely broken the law.

"As elected officials, we are devastated by this breach of trust," Crane said. "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. 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."

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and District Attorney Dan Rubinstein said in a statement:

“Yesterday, the Mesa County grand jury returned an indictment after the presentation of evidence in an ongoing investigation into the alleged election system breach in Mesa County. The grand jury, randomly selected from the same pool of citizens that elected Clerk Tina Peters and chosen months before any of these alleged offenses occurred, concluded there is probable cause that Clerk Peters and Deputy Clerk Knisley committed crimes.

“A grand jury is comprised of citizens who determine whether probable cause of criminal activity has been established. Once indicted, the case must be proven in a court of law beyond a reasonable doubt.

“This investigation is ongoing, and other defendants may be charged as we learn more information. We remind everyone that these are allegations at this point and that they are presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

The Colorado GOP released a statement saying in part that any Republican candidate who is indicted with felonies should suspend their campaign while they undergo the legal challenges associated with those indictments 

The statement is in full below.

"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. 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."

Colorado GOP Executive Director Joe Jackson added the following: "The Bylaws of the Colorado GOP are clear, the Party must stay neutral during primary races. Per those Bylaws, we will continue to afford Clerk Peters the same information and opportunities afforded other statewide candidates unless notified by her campaign that her status as a candidate for office has changed. We will not be making any additional statements regarding this situation."

RELATED: Mesa County judge issues embattled GOP Clerk Tina Peters contempt citation

RELATED: Mesa County clerk Tina Peters faces obstruction charge following arrest

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