To avoid being arrested and spending a night in jail, Mesa County Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley turned herself in to the Mesa County District Court on Wednesday and was advised of charges of felony burglary and misdemeanor cyber crimes against her in relation to a personnel matter and ongoing investigations of her and her boss, Clerk Tina Peters.

As a result, the court ordered the 66-year-old Knisley not to enter the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder’s Office at a time when local, state and federal criminal investigations are ongoing into possible felony charges for breaching election security, according to her arrest warrant that initially was to be executed last week.

The charges are independent of those criminal investigations that are focused on her, Peters and others by the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office, the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

According to her arrest affidavit, Knisley had been placed on administrative leave on Aug. 23 by County Administrator Pete Baier, escorted out of the office and told not to have contact with anyone in the office. She was placed on paid leave pending a county human resources investigation into multiple allegations that she was creating a hostile work environment for office employees and was “engaged in inappropriate, unprofessional conduct in the workplace.”

Two days later, Knisley was found in the office again, despite having her access card and passwords disabled. She had requested assistance from the county’s Information Technology office using Peters’ email address because she was having trouble printing something.

Baier again told her to leave the office “or the local police would be called,” the warrant says.

That incident prompted District Attorney Dan Rubinstein’s office to issue an arrest warrant to help ensure that Knisley stayed away.

“(Rubinstein) has been in contact with defense counsel for Ms. Knisley and has expressed his concern that Ms. Kinsley continues to have contact with employees of the Clerk and Recorder’s Office in a manner that is intimidating to them, despite the pending investigation and her leave,” the affidavit says.

“It appeared Knisley was using Peters’ Mesa County work station to access the secure Mesa County computer network while she was in Peters’ office earlier on 8/25/21,” the affidavit adds. “Upon further investigation, Mesa County IT discovered that during the 08/25/21 session logged into Peters credentials, items were sent to the print server, but were not ultimately printed. What those items were was not immediately clear and remains under investigation.”

The affidavit says there is no information that shows that Peters has returned to her office since Aug. 9, when she flew to a voter-fraud conspiracy theory event in South Dakota hosted by Mike Lindell, the owner of My Pillow Inc., where copies of hard drives from the Elections Division where publicly revealed.

A notebook computer from Peters’ office was confiscated by the Human Resources Department, and turned over to Rubinstein’s office.

FELONY CHARGE

The second-degree burglary charge is based on allegations that Knisley unlawfully entered a “building or structure with intent to commit a crime against another person or property,” the arrest affidavit says. That’s a class 4 felony punishable by up to six years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

The misdemeanor charge is a cyber crime for someone who knowingly accesses a computer or network without authorization. It is a class 2 charge punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Because Peters has been in hiding somewhere else in the nation, Knisley had been left in charge. Knisley remains on paid administrative leave from her $90,000-a-year job. As a result of the court order against her, it’s unclear who is running various divisions in the office.

Because of reorganizations and position shifting over the past year done by Peters, who makes nearly $93,000 a year, there is no longer a manager for the Division of Motor Vehicles, nor a head supervisor in the recording section.

Knisley, Peters and Elections Manager-Back Office Sandra Brown, along with others, are the subjects of investigations into possible breaches of election security protocols that included revealing secure information to voter-fraud conspiracy theorists on social media and online, which could lead to felony criminal charges.

Wednesday’s charges against Knisley are not a result of any pending charges from those investigations, but they are related.

RELEASED ON PR BOND

Knisley was released on a $2,000 personal recognizance bond and ordered to have no contact “of any type” with employees in her office. She was fingerprinted, photographed and booked before being released. Her next court hearing has been set for Sept. 9.

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Jena Griswold and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser filed a lawsuit in Mesa County District Court to temporarily bar Knisley and Peters from having anything to do with the 2021 coordinated elections this fall.

That action came on the heels of an order from Griswold’s office last month temporarily prohibiting Peters and Knisley from participating in the upcoming election.

“Officials tasked with carrying out safe and secure elections do so in public trust and must be held accountable when they abuse their power or position,” Griswold said in response to the charges against Knisley. “The Secretary of State’s Office will continue the work required to protect every eligible Coloradans’ right and ensure the integrity of the state’s elections.”

Former Secretary of State Wayne Williams and Mesa County Treasurer Sheila Reiner were appointed to oversee those elections. Both will be compensated for the extra work.

This week, the two oversaw the re-installation of new elections equipment from Dominion Voting Systems. They replaced 41 pieces of equipment that Griswold decertified because Peters ignored state orders to show whether they were not tainted from being used in future elections.

Instead, Peters traveled to a voter fraud conspiracy theory event in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, sponsored by Lindell, who has been claiming, without evidence, that the 2020 election was rigged and former President Donald Trump lost as a result.

Since then, Lindell has been keeping Peters in hiding in an undisclosed location somewhere in the U.S., saying she fears for her safety even though there is no evidence that she has been physically threatened.

It’s unclear if the county or Peters has sole authority to fire a deputy clerk from her appointed job.