News 5 has learned Timothy Merchant, a Colorado Department of Corrections employee is being investigated over threatening comments he allegedly made on Facebook toward a disabilities advocate in Trinidad.
Stephen Hamer is well known in the community. He spent time in prison and turned his life around—becoming an advocate for people with disabilities.
He even started a Facebook page to bring awareness to accessibility issues and it’s on that page that Hamer says Merchant threatened him.
“I frequently encounter various barriers in my daily travel in my wheelchair so I often take a picture of the violations and I post it on my Stephen’s List Facebook page,” Hamer said.
He hopes to reach a large audience online and get the disabled community to come together to convince city leaders to fix ADA issues like missing curb cuts or sidewalks that are too steep.
“If my page enlightens someone or someone offers a comment that can make me a better advocate, I’m willing to listen,” Hamer said. “However, I will not be intimidated, coerced or threatened.”
On April 21, Hamer posted a picture on Facebook asking the Mayor of Trinidad to install an accessible picnic table in a park.
That’s when DOC employee Tim Merchant reportedly made a comment threatening to reveal Hamer’s medical records if he didn’t stop posting on social media.
“I’m ashamed I’ve gone to prison,” Hamer said. “Everyone in Trinidad knows about my lengthy stay in the Colorado prison system. I took the threat of my medical records very serious and reached out to the police department and made an official complaint.”
The Trinidad Police Department received a complaint from Hamer on April 24 and turned the case over to the district attorney’s office for review.
We reached out to Merchant multiple times to get his side of the story, but he never responded.
A Department of Corrections spokesperson said Hamer denied making the post and claimed his account was hacked.
We asked Trinidad Police Chief Charles Glorioso about that possibility.
To protect the integrity of a case, law enforcement will rarely release specific details of how they conduct an investigation.
However, Chief Glorioso told News 5 through email that at the time his department filed the report with the DA’s office, investigators believed the comments in question left on Hamer’s Facebook page were posted by Mr. Merchant.
News 5 Investigates discovered a second post made through Merchant’s Facebook account back in March bashing Medicaid and asking Mr. Hamer why he should pay for insurance for someone “too lazy to work”.
“I think he should be held accountable but that’s unlikely in the Department of Corrections because after 20 years in prison and seeing things first hand, I don’t think the Inspector General’s Office could track down an elephant with diarrhea walking into a phone booth based on my knowledge of how their investigations work,” Hamer said.
News 5 Investigates filed an inquiry with the DOC earlier in May to get more information about the case.
Initially, we were told there was an open investigation. Then we were told there was no “official investigation” and that the Inspector General was simply “reviewing the case”.
A spokesperson then said the Inspector General will wait to see what the district attorney’s office does.
“This is not acceptable,” Hamer said. “I said a lot less and ended up with a similar conviction.”
After filing a police report, Merchant has not made any new posts on Hamer’s Facebook page.
Jay Kirby, the Inspector General for the Department of Corrections told Hamer in an email that “this is not a Department of Corrections or OIG matter. The alleged actions by Mr. Merchant took place off-duty.”
But is the DOC dodging accountability?
According to the DOC’s own code of conduct, employees are required to conduct themselves professionally “on or off duty”.
The DOC’s policy goes a step further, saying “any action on or off duty that jeopardizes the integrity or security of the department, calls into question one’s ability to perform effectively and efficiently in his/her position.”
News 5 Investigates requested an official statement answering additional questions about this matter, but we have not received one as of Thursday.
You can read a copy of the DOC’s code of conduct here.