Briefline

Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters indicted by grand jury in election system security breach case

By: - March 9, 2022 12:05 pm

Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters speaks in front of the Mesa County Justice Center in Grand Junction on Jan. 13, 2022. (Sharon Sullivan for Colorado Newsline)

A Mesa County grand jury on Tuesday indicted Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters on 10 counts related to an investigation into election equipment tampering that led to a system security breach last summer.

The indictment is on a combination of misdemeanor and felony charges, including attempting to influence a public servant and criminal impersonation. The grand jury also indicted Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley on six counts.

Both Peters and Knisley turned themselves into the Mesa County Detention Facility on Wednesday afternoon.

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Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters turned herself in to the Mesa County Detention Facility on March 9, 2022 after a grand jury indicted her on 10 counts related to an election security system breach investigation. (Photo courtesy of Mesa County Sheriff’s Office)

Peters had been under investigation over allegedly enabling a security breach in the Mesa County elections system during a “trusted build” process, which involves a secure software update. She routinely spreads baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and that Colorado’s entire election system is insecure. She aligns herself with far-right figures including MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and Colorado podcaster Joe Oltmann.

The grand jury took up the investigation in January.

“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,” reads a joint statement from Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein and Attorney General Phil Weiser.

Both Peters and Knisley are innocent until proven guilty. Arrest warrants were issued for the charges with a cash bond set at $500,000 for both women. Neither posted bond when they turned themselves in.

Peters is charged with the felony charges of three counts of attempting to influence a public servant, criminal impersonation, two counts of conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation and one count of identity theft, as well as the misdemeanors of first-degree official misconduct, violation of duty, and failing to comply with the secretary of state, according to the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office.

Knisley is charged with three counts of attempting to influence a public servant, one count of conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation, violation of duty, and failing to comply with the secretary of state.

“This investigation is ongoing, and other defendants may be charged as we learn more information,” Rubinstein and Weiser said.

Mystery about Gerald Wood

The indictment recounts that Peters allowed an unauthorized person — previously identified as Gerald Wood — into the room during an election system software update conducted by the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. After that update, system passwords and other sensitive information was posted online.

The indictment, however, reveals that Wood testified he never attended the update and never used his access badge, which he turned over to Peters a few days before the update on the same day it was created. Access keys assigned to Wood, Peters and Sandra Brown were used to access the secure elections office.

The indictment does not reveal who the man Peters introduced to a state elections worker as Gerald Wood actually was.

Separately, Peters was cited with contempt of court for allegedly recording a court hearing for Knisley with an iPad and then lying to the judge about it. She is also facing charges of obstructing a peace officer and obstructing government operations when investigators tried to seize that iPad.

Peters is running for secretary of state to unseat Democratic incumbent Jena Griswold. Colorado GOP Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown called for Peters to step down from that race following the indictment.

“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,” Brown said in a statement. “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.”

In a statement, Griswold said Peters’ actions were one of the first in the country where an elected official acted as an insider threat to the integrity of the election system on the basis of an unfounded conspiracy theory. She said she is committed to upholding the state’s election infrastructure.

“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,” she said.

A Peters spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on March 9, 2022 at 5:20 p.m. to reflect that Tina Peters and Belinda Knisley turned themselves in and to include comments from Kristi Burton Brown.

Indictment

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Sara Wilson
Sara Wilson

Sara Wilson covers state government, Colorado's congressional delegation, energy and other stories for Newsline. She formerly was a reporter for The Pueblo Chieftain, where she covered politics and government in southern Colorado. Wilson earned a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and as a student she reported on Congress and other federal beats in Washington, D.C.

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