Palisade officer harassed her, woman alleges

A Palisade police officer has been arrested on allegations he harassed his ex-girlfriend with text messages and by calling her and knocking on her apartment door in the middle of the night.

Mesa County sheriff’s investigators arrested Stephen James Tonello, 26, 1281 Bookcliff Ave., No. 6, on Friday on suspicion of harassment, a misdemeanor domestic violence charge. He spent Friday night in the Mesa County Jail and was released Saturday morning after posting a $200 bond, Sheriff’s spokeswoman Heather Benjamin said.

Tonello, who is scheduled to appear in court again on Friday, is the third Grand Valley law-enforcement officer who has been accused of criminal conduct in the past two months.

Palisade Police Chief Carroll Quarles said he placed Tonello on paid administrative leave Friday while he conducts an internal investigation.

“When I finish with the personnel issue, whatever disciplinary action that needs to be taken will be taken, if any,” he said.

Tonello couldn’t be reached for comment on Tuesday. Local phone books don’t contain a listing for him, and his phone number was redacted from his arrest affidavit.

Quarles said he is not involved in the criminal investigation and declined to comment on the allegations.

Tonello’s ex-girlfriend called police last Friday to report that he had been harassing her over the phone. She said she had recently broken up with him because he was too controlling, indicating that he tried to control what she ate and where she went. She said Tonello had contacted her on occasion since the relationship ended, seeking to get back together and meet with her, but she refused, according to an arrest affidavit.

The woman said she and her new boyfriend saw Tonello at a local bar Thursday night but didn’t talk to him. She said she and her boyfriend left the bar and went back to her apartment.

She told investigators that around 4 a.m. Friday she began receiving text messages and a phone call from Tonello. About an hour later, she said, someone knocked on the exterior door to her bedroom, the affidavit said.

She said she asked who was there but didn’t receive a response. She said Tonello knows the door goes to her bedroom and suspected it was him knocking because of his prior attempts to contact her over the phone, the affidavit said.

The woman said she received two more knocks on her door early that morning. The last time, around 6:45 a.m., she heard a police radio and went to the door, armed with her loaded handgun. She opened the door to Tonello and asked what he wanted. Tonello said he wanted to talk to her, but then said “never mind” and left after he saw the woman’s new boyfriend standing behind her, the affidavit said.

The woman said after she called police, Tonello sent her a text message that contained disparaging, vulgar language. He sent another message while deputies were meeting with the woman at her apartment that read, in part, “Now I can finally move on. Thanks. Noe (sic) regrets.”

Deputies reviewed the text messages and found that Tonello had sent six of them between 3:45 a.m. and 8 a.m. The messages ranged from telling her that her hair looked good, to discouraging her from buying beers for his friends, to encouraging her to find someone who “means something” to her, the affidavit said.

The woman said Tonello had previously sent her text messages in a similar fashion since they had broken up and that “it has come to the point where it needs to stop,” the affidavit said. She said, however, that she didn’t want to cause problems for Tonello or see him lose his job.

Deputies contacted Tonello at his apartment, and he admitted to going to his ex-girlfriend’s apartment, calling her and sending her text messages. He said she had not told him not to contact her, the affidavit said.

Sheriff’s officials wrote in the affidavit that they discussed whether to pursue stalking charges against Tonello but concluded there wasn’t enough evidence, the affidavit said.

Quarles said Tonello was born and raised in the Grand Valley and has been an officer with the department since April. He said this is Tonello’s first job in law enforcement.

Tonello’s arrest comes on the heels of arrests of former Grand Junction police officers Courtney Crooks and Glenn Coyne.

Crooks was arrested on Aug. 28 on charges he physically harassed his wife. He has since resigned, pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial in February.

Coyne was fired and arrested on Oct. 1, accused of sexually assaulting a woman in her home. He committed suicide in a west Denver hotel room five days later.


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