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News 5 Investigates: Did a sheriff's lieutenant misuse his power to make an arrest?

Posted at 6:34 PM, Sep 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-16 00:16:36-04

EL PASO COUNTY — News 5 Investigates is looking into whether a high-ranking El Paso County Sheriff's deputy misused his power to make an arrest.

A Widefield man was charged with assaulting a police officer, but News 5 Investigates obtained video evidence showing the man never touched the lieutenant.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office has declined to talk on-camera about this case or how it was handled, but law enforcement sources including a sworn officer who tipped us off to this matter say this arrest should not have happened.

Tony Twiss is facing several years in prison on a felony assault charge because she shined a flashlight at an officer.

Twiss says he was getting ready to run to Wal Mart when he noticed an unmarked SUV parked on the side of his daughter's bedroom window.

"As I was walking out of the house, I looked out of her room window and saw that there was a vehicle sitting out there," he said.

Tony says there has been previous problems with theft in his neighborhood and decided to approach the SUV with his flashlight.

"I shined the light on the car," he said.

It turns out the vehicle was a police SUV.

Lt. Bill Huffor, a veteran law enforcement officer was inside and apparently finishing up some paperwork on an earlier case.

"He tells me not to be shining lights on people because I could get hurt," he said. "He then tells me for me to give him my ID. I pulled it out and said wait a minute, let me grab my camera right quick and I'll be right back."

At the time Lt. Huffor asked for his identification, Tony had not done anything wrong.

Because of previous experiences with law enforcement, he went to get his wife to record the interaction. When he and his wife came outside, Tony says Lt. Huffor's attitude changed.

"He says you're free to go," Tony said. "He said you don't have to give it (an ID) to me anyway. And then I thought to myself well okay. I said can you move your car so I can go?"

Tony admits he's aggravated. Instead of de-escalating the situation and leaving since no crime had been committed, Lt. Huffor appears to egg Tony on and won't move his patrol unit away from Tony's driveway.

"You need to move your (expletive) so I can get out of here," Tony told Lt. Huffor.

"You're free to go sir," Lt. Huffor said.

Tony replied, "Do you see the truck I'm getting in?"

"You're free to go," Lt. Huffor said.

Tony asked again, "Can you move your truck?"

"You're free to go," Lt. Huffor said.

As Tony turns to walk back up his driveway, he turns on the flashlight for a split-second which flashes in Lt. Huffor's face.

News 5 had to slow down the video from 100-percent (normal speed) to 25-percent so you can see what happened.

Tony then walks toward his driveway when Lt. Huffor calls him back.

"Put your hands behind your back," Lt. Huffor said.

Tony responded, "For what?"

"You just shined that in my eye on purpose," Lt. Huffor said.

Tony is arrested and taken to jail.

"You're under arrest for obstruction," Lt. Huffor told Tony.

However, court records show that charge changed from obstructing an officer (a misdemeanor), to a felony for assault on a peace officer.

"If I assaulted him, I deserved it," Tony said. " I didn't assault him. I never touched him. I asked him to leave like 4 times."

Tony showed News 5 the flashlight he had in his hand that night. He claims it's considerably less powerful than a police light bar or headlights.

According to the arrest report obtained by News 5 Investigates, Lt. Huffor had another deputy write up the report.

Huffor said he felt "instant pain" and an "instant headache" from the flashlight.

In the affidavit, Lt. Huffor also claims that he was "briefly disoriented."

Law enforcement sources tell News 5 that while having someone shine a flashlight at them is obnoxious, it doesn't necessarily rise to the level of felony assault on an officer.

At no time in the video we watched did Lt. Huffor ever call for medical attention.

Also on video, Lt. Huffor also appears to have no trouble grabbing a hold of Tony to arrest him.

"They just need more training," Tony said. "They just don't treat people right. It's not all of them but 1, 3, or 4 make the whole team look bad."

A spokesperson for the El County Sheriff's Office said this case is now under administrative review to see if any policies or procedures have been violated.

As new updates become available, we'll be sure to pass them along to you.

Tony is due in court in late September. He faces prison time if convicted.

Transparency report:

Q: When did you reach out to the Sheriff's Office for comment on this case?
A: We reached out to the El Paso County Sheriff's Office on September 3, 2020.

Q: Did the Sheriff's Office initially respond to your inquiry?
A: Yes, we gave them the information regarding the case and asked to discuss this topic and de-escalation training deputies go through so situations like this can be avoided. A spokesperson agreed to help coordinate an interview but could not do so until after the Labor Day Holiday. News 5 agreed to these terms.

Q: After the Labor Day holiday, did you follow up with the Sheriff's Office?
A: We sure did. The El Paso County Sheriff's Office was sent a follow-up email inquiry on September 8, 2020. The next day, a spokesperson stated that they would not be able to talk about the case or de-escalation training/policies until an administrative review into this case is complete.

Q: When was the "administrative review" case opened?
A: September 7, 2020.