A La Plata County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant who serves as commander of the Southwest Drug Task Force will resign at the end of the month after allegedly stealing food from a crime scene while on a drug bust in 2017.
“It’s very unfortunate,” said Christian Champagne, 6th Judicial District attorney. “But the integrity and credibility of law enforcement always has to be above reproach.”
About a month ago, a homeowner, who was subject to a marijuana cultivation drug bust in 2017, found video from his security camera of Lt. Ryan Engle in his garage stealing three to five granola bars, Champagne said.
The video prompted an investigation into official misconduct at a crime scene. Because the incident involved a Sheriff’s Office employee, the case was turned over to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
At the same time, the Sheriff’s Office conducted an internal investigation, and it subsequently suspended Engle from all law enforcement duties, said Sheriff Sean Smith.
As a result of the CBI criminal investigation and the Sheriff’s Office internal investigation, Engle announced earlier this month he would resign.
Champagne said the District Attorney’s Office stopped pursuing criminal charges after Engle’s decision to resign.
“We felt that given his resignation, he basically suffered sufficient consequences and that it wouldn’t be necessary to pursue a criminal case against him,” Champagne said.
Smith said Engle’s last day will be Friday.
Engle’s attorney, Ryan Brungard of Duthie Savastano Brungard, speaking on Engle’s behalf, said the granola bars were on a table in an open room on the property where the drug task force team was conducting a search warrant and the owners were cooperative.
“Based on the atmosphere of the search and the homeowner’s hospitality, Ryan felt the granola bars were open for anyone to take,” Brungard said. “So Ryan took a handful for his fellow search team and law enforcement colleagues.”
Brungard said that in Engle’s 20-plus years in law enforcement, his integrity and ethics have never been questioned. Brungard said Engle fully cooperated with the CBI and the Sheriff’s Office investigations.
“This is an unfortunate loss to our community, and we’re losing a fantastic law enforcement officer,” Brungard said. “And this situation, as you can imagine, has taken an incredible toll on Ryan.”
Smith said Engle worked at the Sheriff’s Office for more than 20 years.
While both Champagne and Smith said stealing granola bars from a crime scene may seem minor, the action is inappropriate and cannot be ignored.
“Law enforcement is held to a different standard, and we have to hold ourselves to a different standard,” Smith said.
Champagne said if Engle had remained with the force, it would have been necessary to file a “Brady letter” of disclosure against him, which is essentially a notice to defense attorneys that details the incident and can affect his credibility.
Champagne said having a Brady letter is “really significant,” and makes it difficult for someone in law enforcement to conduct investigative work. Any time an officer with a Brady letter is asked to testify, it also comes up.
“The principle behind it is that it doesn’t make a difference if it’s $5 or $5,000,” Champagne said. “We expect as a society our officers are going to operate to the highest standards of honesty and integrity, and any slip can’t be looked past.”
Smith said having a Brady letter in an officer’s file is often a career-ender.
“It becomes very difficult for a law-enforcement officer to continue in their role,” Smith said. “Ryan saw that himself, and that’s why he chose to resign.”
Smith said he requested Engle stay with the Sheriff’s Office until the end of the month so he can train his replacement. However, Engle will not be allowed to conduct law-enforcement duties, Smith said.
Engle took over the drug task force in mid-2015.
“It’s very unfortunate because Engle did excellent work for this community and worked in law enforcement for over two decades,” Champagne said. “But it’s also more important we are completely transparent when it comes to anything related to the credibility, honesty and integrity from law-enforcement officers.”