By Jeff Todd
DENVER (CBS4)– He used to sit in the Colorado governor’s cabinet and oversaw the department that enforces hunting law, now Mike King has pleaded guilty himself for illegally hunting but some say the former political appointee got off easy.
“This is the end of a 2-and-a-half-year saga,” said Carl Luppens.
In September 2013, Luppens says he was hunting on his ranch in remote southern Routt County when he saw someone come onto his property.
“With an ATV, a motor vehicle, drive 50 head of elk off our land to hunt it on the adjacent land,” Luppens said. “He went in to our line of fire very dangerous situation.”
Luppens and his wife say they followed the perpetrator and after eventually confronted the other hunter. They called a Colorado Parks and Wildlife Officer and said they wanted to press charges.
“Hunting needs integrity and ethics or else it kind of falls apart,” Luppens said. “So few people get caught red handed that you need to prosecute. Once we learned (King’s) position everything changed.”
King was appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2010 to be the Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources. He’s credited with creating the Parks and Wildlife department. King took a job with Denver Water earlier this year.
At a trial in 2014 Routt County District Attorney Brett Barkey dismissed the case, saying this was a feud between neighboring land owners.
After that trial King told CBS4, “I was inadvertently on property not owned by the ranch that I had permission to hunt. The District Attorney reviewed the case and determined there was no likelihood of success and dismissed it.”
Luppens appealed to the judge in the case and won a lawsuit saying the case should be reopened.
“The District Judge said, ‘This guy is guilty. This is a strict liability offense. There isn’t much defense. Caught red handed; admitted it; should be prosecuted.'”
Barkey appealed that ruling, which took years and even reached the Colorado Court of appeals. All judges along the way agreed with Luppens that King should be prosecuted.
“It’s astounding to me because it’s the type of thing, and for tax payer money, it would be like a traffic offense, appealing if someone ran a stop sign.”
On Wednesday, King’s attorney handed in a plea deal. The Steamboat Pilot reports King plead guilty to Hunting in a Closed area and will pay less than $300 in fines. Colorado Parks and Wildlife will review the criminal conviction and assess King’s Hunting Permit.
“Why would two district attorney’s try and protect someone like this? When you, or I, or the average Joe is in this position they really throw the book,” Luppens said.
In August of 2015, Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced a trespassing hunter was forced to pay $11,653.50 and perform 50 hours of community service.
Luppens says he’s spent thousands of dollars trying to keep the wheels of justice moving of a former State official. The reduced charge and light fines are “a draw” he says.
“We’re pleased he didn’t get away with it. He plead guilty to something. And I guess we set an example that you can’t run over everybody all the time,” Luppens said.
Jeff Todd joined the CBS4 team in 2011 covering the Western Slope in the Mountain Newsroom. Since 2015 he’s been working across the Front Range in the Denver Headquarters. Follow him on Twitter @CBS4Jeff.