Investigators should not have been allowed to testify about security footage they could not produce, Cameron Braveheart said through his attorney, in a motion for a new trial.
Braveheart formerly worked at the Montrose County Jail. He was convicted last month of identity theft, criminal possession of a financial transaction device, unauthorized used of a financial transaction device and official misconduct.
Braveheart is said to have used the jail-issued debit card containing money that was to be remitted to an inmate upon his release.
The day after the trial, however, a juror contacted presiding Judge Keri Yoder to raise concerns. Because the law limits what information she can receive and share with jurors, Yoder stopped the man once it seemed clear to her that he had concerns with the deliberation process. She set a hearing to advise prosecutors and defense attorney Timothy O’Keefe that they could reach out the the juror if they wanted to.
The District Attorney’s Office opted not to do so. O’Keefe declined to say whether he would.
On May 2, he filed a motion for a new trial. This document does not indicate whether the filing is the result of having reached out to the juror.
What the document does allege is that the police investigators failed to preserve the surveillance footage upon which Braveheart was reportedly seen using the inmate’s card, even though they were allowed to testify that the footage depicted him.
O’Keefe in the motion said that despite repeated objections, the testimony was allowed.
Braveheart had been a stellar employee for the Montrose County Sheriff’s Office when a former inmate raised concerns over the debit card issued to him upon his release.
The jail accounts for all money an inmate may have when he or she is booked into jail. More money can be added to an inmate’s account, or subtracted for commissary items, phone calls and similar goods or services. When a person leaves jail with a positive balance, the jail is to remit the leftover money on a debit card.
In 2020, the former informed the Montrose County Sheriff’s Office that although his card was supposed to have a positive balance on it, it was zero.
Jail Administrator Dean McNulty previously told the Montrose Daily Press that an audit was conducted, which found the money had been loaded to the card, but the system was down at the time of the man’s release. The man returned later to get the correct card, but again discovered a zero balance, so additional investigation took place, leading the sheriff’s office to a specific ATM. Footage from the ATM appeared to show Braveheart, McNulty said.
According to Braveheart’s May 2 motion, the card in question was used by an individual at a Walmart ATM between 8:30 and 9 p.m. Dec. 2, 2020.
Per the motion, Sheriff’s Sgt. Staci Nelson requested to review security footage and at trial testified that it showed Braveheart using the machine at the time.
The Montrose Police Department then conducted a criminal investigation. Detective Samantha Graves also watched the footage and based some of her questions to Braveheart on that footage, O’Keefe said in the motion. The detective testified that Braveheart admitted it was him, but also said that when a copy of the footage was requested in January of this year, it had not been uploaded as evidence. Graves searched everywhere for the disk containing the copy of the footage, but could not find it; also, it was not saved on a server, nor were videos ever saved to her own desktop.
At the time of the case landing on Graves’ desk, the police department was a designated COVID-19 “hotspot” because of the number of positive cases among staff. This meant as many employees as possible were working from home, including herself. The staffers who are supposed to make copies of evidence videos were not available, so officers were responsible for forwarding that type of information on to the District Attorney’s Office for discovery procedures.
Although Graves recalled uploading the video to a disc and providing it so that it could be sent to the DA’s office on March 15, 2021, it wasn’t preserved correctly, or available for discovery by either side.
Despite this, O’Keefe said, “the court freely allowed Sgt. Nelson and Detective Graves to testify as to what they said they had seen on the Walmart video, including what actions (Braveheart) was taking and their speculation as to what (he) was doing on the video.”
He objected on his client’s behalf each time such testimony was given, contending it was nonverbal hearsay and, because the footage was not available, he could not cross-examine the investigators as to the validity of what they were saying.
According to how it is characterized in the May 2 motion, the court allowed the officers’ testimony because they were testifying as to what they saw, so they were not offering hearsay.
But the court was wrong, O’Keefe said: testimony about the video was presented to prove the truth of the matter, yet the footage was not in evidence. Whatever the intent of testimony had been, the officers had been allowed to make assertions based on information not in evidence and that is “inadmissible hearsay,” the motion argues.
A hearing on the motion had not been set as of Tuesday. Braveheart is currently slated to appear for sentencing July 11.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.