Kent’s attorney plans to request change in venue for Lake County charges
Lake County coroner is now the focus of a recall petition
LEADVILLE — Pointing to an ongoing recall effort, the attorney of Lake County Coroner Shannon Kent told a judge Thursday that he plans to request a change in venue for the criminal charges Kent faces in Lake County.
John Scott was appointed alternative defense counsel for Kent, though administrative issues must be worked out with with Kent’s application to the public defender’s office, so it’s not yet clear if Scott will continue as Kent’s attorney.
“I will file a motion to change venue,“ Scott told Lake County District Court Judge Catherine Cheroutes, requesting a two-week continuance in the case. ”I would have done that before today, but with the public defender application, I need to make sure I will still be on the case.“
In the brief hearing, Scott noted several people who are employees of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office have started circulating a petition for a recall election to try to force Kent, the county’s elected coroner since 2014 who was reelected in 2018, out of office.
Gloria Gonzales, Paula Velasquez and Tina Tekansik got a petition approved and have until April 23 to submit 690 valid signatures from voters in the county to trigger a recall election. They could not be reached for comment on the recall effort.
Kent is charged with official misconduct, a petty offense, and perjury, a felony, in Lake County. Those charges stem from Kent allegedly allowing his wife, Staci Kent, to act as a deputy coroner without proper authorizations, and then making knowingly false statements to a grand jury. Staci Kent is facing charges of perjury and forgery, both felonies.
Kent previously requested a special prosecutor for his case, arguing that bad blood between himself and former 5th Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown would prevent him from ever getting a fair trial. Judge Cheroutes approved that request, but Brown appealed, sending the matter to the Colorado Supreme Court, which ultimately sent prosecution of the case back to the 5th Judicial District Attorney — now Heidi McCollum.
Kent stepped away from his chain of funeral homes last year, voluntarily signing an agreement with regulators in December to never again work in the funeral home or cremation business in Colorado. That agreement was initiated after law enforcement searched one of Kent’s funeral homes in Leadville, allegedly finding unsanitary and possibly unlawful conditions.
The Kents are also facing a civil lawsuit, filed on behalf of a Leadville couple who allege they received co-mingled cremains for their stillborn infant. That cremation is believed to have been done at Kent’s former funeral home in Gypsum. That civil matter has run into challenges, according to recent hearings, with the Kents not wanting to be deposed for the lawsuit for fear of incriminating themselves as they continue to be investigated by law enforcement.
In Summit County, both Kents are now also facing charges of tampering with a deceased human body, a felony, after authorities in February found a deceased person in a coffin, believed to have been at their former funeral home in Silverthorne for several months.
Kent continues to serve as Lake County’s elected coroner. County officials have had to make special arrangements with the Chaffee County Coroner’s Office and St. Vincent Health EMS to help move and store decedents, so Kent can comply with bond orders issued by courts in Summit County.
Tom Lotshaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.