Mesa County deputy clerk charged with burglary, cybercrime

Posted at 3:19 PM, Sep 01, 2021

DENVER – Mesa County Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley faces a felony burglary and misdemeanor cybercrime charge while she remains the subject of investigations into election security breaches.

Knisley faces charges of second-degree burglary of a building, a class 4 felony, and cybercrime — unauthorized access, a class 2 misdemeanor, according to the court records and to a news release from the 21st Judicial District Attorney's Office.

Charles Ashby at The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel first reported the charges. According to the district attorney's office, Knisley turned herself in to the court on Wednesday. The district attorney's office said it made arrangements to avoid her going through jail because she was willing to turn herself in.

The district attorney's office said the newly filed charges are separate from the office's and the Federal Bureau of Investigations' ongoing criminal investigations into the election security breaches.

According to an arrest affidavit and the district attorney's office, Knisley had been placed on paid leave "due to a confidential personnel matter." A lawsuit filed earlier this week by Secretary of State Jena Griswold says Knisley was suspended with pay by the county’s human resources director on Aug. 23.

The arrest affidavit confirms that Knisley was ordered not to be present at the clerk's office and not to do any county-related work while she was on administrative leave.

But on the morning of Aug. 25, several print request emails came from the email address of Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters to Mesa County IT. Mesa County Administrator Peter Baier was notified around noon that Knisley was in a secure area at the county DMV office, where she had been escorted from two days prior.

Baier and the county's director of human services found Knisley at that office, and the affidavit says Baier overheard Knisley telling another employee to print something off of another computer. The affidavit says Baier told Knisley she needed to leave and she called her attorney, who told her to leave.

Later that afternoon, county HR took Peters' laptop from her office in response to a search warrant, according to the affidavit, which also says that "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."

Log files from the computer confirmed Peters' credentials were used to log in to the computer earlier that morning, but Peters had not yet returned to her office since Aug. 9, according to the affidavit.

Knisley did not have an attorney listed in court records.

The court records show she had a $2,000 bond set on Wednesday and that a mandatory protection order was issued that bars her from having any contact with the clerk's office or its employees.

Knisley and Peters were sued by Griswold and a Mesa County elector on Monday as Griswold seeks to remove Peters as the county’s designated election official and to bar her and Knisley from any oversight or involvement with this November’s election.

The Department of State’s investigation into the election security breaches found that Knisley and Sandra Brown, another Clerk and Recorder employee, helped a man named Gerald Wood who does not work for the county, get into a May 25 “trusted build” of the election system by misrepresenting Wood’s role. That trusted build is where officials believe images were taken of secret passwords used by the Mesa County voting system.

It also said that Peters and Knisely are both presently absent, and should they return, are “unable to perform the required duties as a result of her above wrongful acts and breaches of duty.”

Griswold said in a statement she could not comment on the criminal matter but did add: “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.”