LEADVILLE, Colo. — The Lake County coroner, who is in the midst of a major legal conflict after multiple raids by law enforcement on his Leadville funeral home, submitted his resignation late Friday, Denver7 has learned.
The resignation letter was submitted just hours before Denver7 aired exclusive body camera video showing deputies uncovering decaying bodies in the basement of a funeral home. The coroner’s decision also comes days after Denver7 knocked on the door of his Leadville funeral home seeking answers to what law enforcement uncovered earlier this year.
In addition to his coroner duties, Shannon Kent, along with his wife, Staci, operated six funeral homes in Colorado. Since the arrest by Silverthorne Police in February, the Kents have turned their funeral home licenses over to the state and agreed to never apply for a license again in Colorado.
Shannon will remain in office as coroner for 90 days.
The Kents were arrested Feb. 18 on suspicion of tampering with a deceased human body after authorities found remains in a coffin at their Silverthorne funeral home.
Denver7 Investigates reviewed a dozen body camera video clips from law enforcement agencies when conducting searches of the Kent’s Leadville home in October and February. In one of those searches, four bodies were found in the funeral home, including one that had been on site since 2013 and a baby that was so badly decomposed it could not be identified.
Video from both searches show an office that is in disarray with officers complaining about the odor. One officer commented that the office needs to be condemned, and another called it a “house of horrors.”
Former funeral home directors react
Brenda Runyan sold her family’s funeral home in Buena Vista to the Kents.
“There's no facts, no explanation for this. There's none. There's no good reason for what he's done and what he is continuing to do in staying in his position as Lake County coroner,” she said. “I have no idea how this happened but it's disgusting. It's something to be ashamed of.”
She also said that Shannon Kent owes an explanation to the people of Lake County.
“Please give us an explanation, Mr. Kent. Please explain to me why you have an exhumed deceased individual [for] eight years in your basement,” she said. “Explain that. Explain why an infant in a casket decomposed. Explain that to me."
Mary Kerst, whose mother sold the Kents a funeral home in Gypsum, called Shannon Kent “a snake in the grass,” after viewing the body camera footage from the searches. She added that Kent turning over his licenses for his funeral homes demonstrated that he “was guilty and that he didn’t do things right.”
Faster action needed?
Records reviewed by Denver7 Investigates show complaints about Shannon Kent’s funeral homes date back to 2018. Significant complaints were filed at the start of 2020, but Kent was not shut down until November, just days after the first search on the family’s Leadville home.
Lake County Sheriff Amy Reyes told Denver7 she believes faster action from the state could have made a difference.
“I believe the lack of oversight brings us to where we are at today,” Reyes said. “I believe, had they come out, this would not have been an issue. Had they come out and taken more aggressive action, there would not have been the victims we have today.”
Karen McGovern, Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies deputy director of legal affairs, led the investigation into the Kents’ practices. She told Denver7 that decisions by Colorado lawmakers have limited her office’s ability to investigate the funeral industry.
“I would say the one piece that certainly would have enabled us to move faster would have been inspection authority," McGovern said.
She added that the Kents’ case is particularly difficult because of Shannon’s role as an elected official.
“This case has always been challenging because not only does Mr. Kent run the funeral homes in the area and the crematory, but he's also the elected coroner," she said. “I do think we can always do better, and we always strive to do better.”
Denver7 attempted to contact the Kents at their Leadville home, but they failed to answer the door. A news crew noticed their cars parked out front and a person was seen looking out the window. A reporter left a business card at the door.
Shannon’s resignation comes just over a week after that visit.
The investigation into the Kents’ case continues.
When arrested in February, Shannon Kent was also charged with a violation of his bail bond conditions that stem from a December 2019 arrest. He also faces perjury charges after a Grand Jury indicted him in September 2019 for having his wife act as a deputy coroner even though she was never sworn in and an appointment was never filed with the county clerk.
The Lake County Sheriff held a burial earlier this week for the infant found in a casket in the funeral home. They named him Baby Raymond.