Elk-killing officers face felony charges; DA says they plotted to shoot trophy animal in advance

Texts show Sam Carter, Brent Curnow conversation

BOULDER - Two Boulder officers are facing several felony charges for shooting and killing an elk in the Mapleton neighborhood after an investigation uncovered that the officers had planned to shoot and kill the elk nearly 21 hours before,  and then collect the animal for the "personal gain" of trophy and meat.

Officer Sam Carter originally said he was on routine patrol on the night of Jan. 1 when he saw an elk that he said appeared to be injured.

"In the officer’s judgment, the animal needed to be humanely put down," Boulder Police originally said in its defense of the officer.

However, according to the affidavit released Friday, Carter and his friend, Officer Brent Curnow, had been talking about killing the elk since 3 a.m.  The elk was shot and killed around 11:50 p.m.

According to texts exchanged between them on Jan. 1:

2:56 a.m.: Carter to Curnow: "Found wapiti you up"  (wapiti is another term for elk)

3:55 a.m.: Curnow to Carter: "Yep"

4:14 a.m.: Carter to Curnow: "Should I go Hunting"

2:15 p.m.: Curnow to Carter:  "You should have killed it"

7:44 p.m.: Carter to Curnow: "Oh he's dead tonight. His right side is broke off at the main beam. And he looks a little smaller. He may not be wapiti but he's gonna die."

11:44 p.m.: Carter to Curnow: "Found him"

11:44 p.m.: Curnow to Carter: "Get him"

11:45 p.m.: Carter to Curnow: "Too many people right now. Start heading this way. 9/Mapleton"

11:54: p.m.: Curnow to Carter: "You gonna be able to help butcher it? Or are you gonna go home sick?"

11:54: p.m.: Carter to Curnow: "I can butcher"

11: 55 p.m.: Curnow to Carter: "K When you think you can whack it"

11:58 p.m.: Carter to Curnow: "Elk down"

12:06 a.m.: Curnow to Carter: "If we could find the broken part of the antler I could fix it for a mount"

The Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett announced the charges against the officers at a 1 p.m. Friday news conference. He said Carter and Curnow turned themselves in at the Boulder County Jail earlier Friday and were processed for arrest. They have been released on $20,000 bond.

The felonies they face include forgery,  tampering with physical evidence, attempting to influence a public servant, and conspiracy to commit the crimes of unlawful taking of a 4x6 trophy class elk--unlawful take of an elk outside of hunting season.

They also face several misdemeanor charges: unlawful taking of a trophy class elk, Samson surcharge,  taking an elk out of season, misconduct,  and using an electronic device to communicate in violation of state gaming laws.

The officers had been placed on paid administrative leave on Jan. 3, but effectively immediately, that was changed to unpaid administrative leave, Boulder police said.

"I intend to hold these officers accountable for their actions," Boulder Chief Mark Beckner said Friday. "We apologize for this unfortunate incident. We want the community to know we take their concerns seriously."

Beckner said there's an internal investigation to determine if the officers could and should be fired.

The family who lives at the home where the elk was shot said the elk was known to hang out by their house and eat fruit from their crabapple tree in their front yard. They told investigators that on Dec. 31, the elk appeared healthy and was not aggressive.  Roger Koenig told police that at one point a lot of people had gathered to view it and a police car came by and tried to haze the elk with bullhorn and lights.

The next day, around 10 p.m., an officer who identified himself as Sam Carter told Koenig's wife, Nancy Pierce that he may have to shoot the elk and she may or may not hear a loud noise. Pierce told investigators that she looked at the elk, which appeared fine and healthy, and then went inside. That's when she heard a single gunshot.

Koenig said that he went outside to investigate and he heard Carter and another officer discussing whether the elk would be classified as a "royal or crown" -- hunting terms for trophy quality. They also talked about how much meat the elk would yield and took pictures holding the elk's head and antler's in a "trophy" pose.

The elk had one 6-point antler, which qualifies it as a trophy elk under the Samson surcharge.

Carter then texted and called someone and about 30 minutes later,  a  green pickup truck backed into the area and after about an hour's work of getting the dead elk into the truck,  the pickup truck driver hauled away the carcass, Koenig said.

Investigators said Curnow  -- who owns a taxidermy business --  was driving the truck and Carter had given him a "Road Kill Wildlife Possession Permit" to account for the elk.

Boulder police said they learned that Carter never called dispatch to tell them that he was going to an area where there were reports of an aggressive elk, never mentioned to his supervisors or dispatch that he had discharged his firearm or was about to discharge his firearm, and never called the Colorado Parks and Wildlife or other wildlife officials to ask them about what to do with an aggressive elk nor how to move it.

Carter also called in sick for the rest of the night after the animal was shot, police said.

In interviews with Carter's fellow shift officers, they told investigators that Carter had mentioned on Dec. 26 that he was planning on killing the elk.

A necropsy determined the animal was healthy and uninjured.