No gun was involved in the Jan. 7 incident that prompted an intensive search of downtown Pagosa Springs and forced area schools to go on lockdown.
The development came about during a follow-up interview on Jan. 13 with the 21-year-old female who made the 911 call about the incident.
“The public definitely needs to know they’re safe. They can come downtown, they can come to the movies. Their children are safe and they’re safe,” said Det. George Barter of the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Department. “They were safe that day. I think within 30-40 seconds there were 15 policeman there.”
Originally, the woman called 911 on Jan. 7 and reported that a man had pulled a gun on her while she was giving him a ride to town from Wolf Creek Ski Area. She further reported that he had exited the car and ran after she pulled into the landfill parking lot next to the courthouse in downtown Pagosa Springs.
The call prompted an intensive search of the downtown area by the sheriff’s department, Pagosa Springs Police Department (with a tracking dog), the Colorado State Patrol and an investigator from the district attorney’s office. The hunt for the suspect ended at approximately 5:40 p.m. that evening.
The incident also caused the intermediate and junior high schools to immediately go on lockdown at the commands of Lisa Hudson and Chris Hinger, the schools’ principals.
In his investigation following the incident, Barter noticed the facts didn’t line up. “We just piled all the facts and circumstances that we knew to be true and compared them to what she was saying. It just didn’t line up and so I just knew it wasn’t right, what she started out saying.”
Barter then interviewed the woman again the evening of Jan. 13.
“It finally got down to the point where I don’t think she could hold back anything anymore and she said there wasn’t (a gun),” Barter said, but the woman admitted the man had sexually harassed her as she gave him a ride.
“He said, ‘Don’t try to put me out or I’ll make you regret it.’ He made a couple of attempts to grab her leg and she brushed him off,” Barter said, adding that the man had said things to the woman that she was unable to verbalize during the interviews.
“She was so traumatized about it and completely broke down and she exaggerated,” said Barter. “She said, ‘I was so mad at him when he got out of my car and thought he could talk to me that way and could say those things like it meant nothing. I was so mad at him that I wanted something to happen to him.’”
Undersheriff John Weiss said department officials believe the woman is a victim based on a thorough investigation by Barter and have recommended to the District Attorney’s office that the woman not be charged with false reporting.
If caught, the suspect could potentially face harassment charges, but as far as law enforcement is concerned, the case is closed, Barter and Weiss said.
“We don’t know who the suspect is, but truly believe this woman that she was victimized,” said Weiss, adding that he and others in the department believe there was no criminal intent behind the report and that it is in the best interest of the public to not prosecute the woman.
“What she did and the exaggeration does not outweigh the fact that she is a victim,” Weiss said.
“She’s a victim. She’s traumatized,” said Sheriff Pete Gonzales, adding, “Why would we traumatize her twice?”
Carmen Hubbs, director of Archuleta County Victim Assistance, agrees that the woman was a victim.
“The level of threat that she felt was probably much more than other people, maybe street smart people who have experienced that kind of language. Her level of feeling, her violation level was higher,” Hubbs said. “People experience trauma at very, very different levels.”
“She felt like she’d been verbally raped. Even though there wasn’t a sexual act, she felt like she was violated,” Barter said.
Hubbs also noted that the woman likely perceived enough of a threat to trigger the reaction and trauma experienced. Hubbs added that they often see that trauma in victims subsides after about 72 hours, allowing more details to come forward, as well as more rational thinking.
“That does not ever make it false reporting. That’s the nature of trauma,” Hubbs said.
District Attorney Todd Risberg said he had not had the opportunity to look at the case by press time and had not made a decision on whether or not the woman would face charges.
Despite the nature of the event, Weiss and Hubbs agreed that the reaction on the part of law enforcement and the schools was “exemplary.”
“Our reaction was correct because the report was there was a man with a gun,” Weiss said. “The schools did the right thing, law enforcement did the right thing.”