Belinda Knisley, the Mesa County deputy clerk under investigation for election security breaches, was advised she faces felony burglary and misdemeanor cybercrime charges Wednesday in Grand Junction, according to court records.
The charges are separate from an ongoing probe by local prosecutors and the FBI into allegations that Knisley and her boss, Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, were involved in election data leaks.
Knisley, 66, turned herself in to authorities and was ordered to stay away from the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder's office, according to The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel's Charles Ashby, who first reported the story.
According to an arrest affidavit, which was first obtained by the Daily Sentinel, Knisley was discovered trying to print a document at county offices using Peters' computer credentials, despite having earlier been placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into allegations she had created a hostile work environment for office employees.
Knisley and Peters were named in a lawsuit filed Monday by Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold seeking to replace Peters as the Western Slope county's designated election official ahead of the November vote. Griswold based the request on allegations the two helped make unauthorized copies of a voting system hard drive and allowed an unauthorized person access to a secure update of the system's software.
Peters has been under fire since early in August when a video displaying passwords to the county's Dominion Voting Systems election equipment appeared online at right-wing websites days before Peters showed up at a "cyber symposium" in South Dakota that aired debunked theories alleging the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.
During the the symposium, which was sponsored by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a prominent Trump supporter, copies of Mesa County's election system hard drive also showed up online. Peters hasn't returned to the office in Grand Junction since her appearance at the event, but Lindell has said he's been moving Peters from one location to another in an effort to protect her from alleged threats.
According to court documents, District Attorney Dan Rubinstein recently informed Knisley's defense counsel that he was concerned that she continued to be in contact with clerk's office employees "in a manner that was intimidating to them," even though she had been placed on leave and was under investigation.
Knisley was notified on Aug. 23 by Peter Baier, the county administrator, that she was being suspended as an employee after receiving "numerous complaints from multiple sources that (Knisley) engaged in inappropriate, unprofessional conduct in the workplace," according to the arrest affidavit. Baier informed her that she couldn't come in to the office or conduct any work for the county while the allegation was under investigation.
Two days later on Aug. 25, the affidavit says, Knisley was prevented by county employees from printing an email using Peters' county-issued notebook computer and log-in credentials in a secure area at the county's motor vehicles department, where Knisley and Peters have offices. County employees turned Peters' laptop over to the district attorney's office later that day after obtaining a search warrant.
Knisley didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, and attempts to identify her defense counsel have been unsuccessful.
Griswold issued a statement to Colorado Politics through a spokeswoman Wednesday afternoon, though she declined to comment specifically on Knisley's arrest, citing the ongoing investigation.
Said Griswold: “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, The Secretary of State’s office will continue the work required to protect every eligible Coloradans’ right to vote and ensure the integrity of the state’s elections.”
This developing story has been updated.
The secretary of state earlier in the day named Sheila Reiner, the Republican county treasurer and former two-term clerk and recorder, to the role. But Mesa County's three commissioners say they don't agree she can do that.