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Couple Sues Montezuma County Sheriff’s Deputy Over 2018 Horse Accident

Austin Cope
KSJD File Photo

A Cortez couple has filed a civil complaint against Montezuma County sheriff’s deputy Donnie Mack Brown, seeking relief from damages stemming from a horse accident during the 2018 Escalante Days in Dolores. 

Cortez residents Tisha Crooks and George Brito, Sr. filed the complaint July 29 in Montezuma County District Court on behalf of their son, who was 4 years old when the incident occurred in August 2018. The complaint alleges that a horse ridden by Brown at the event kicked the child, who had been playing in a “penny pit” behind the horse. The impact allegedly broke bones in the boy’s face and caused him to lose consciousness. He was hospitalized and eventually airlifted to Denver to receive medical attention.

According to the plaintiffs, Brown, who was on mounted patrol, had faced his horse away from the penny pit, near where the boy and the boy’s cousin were playing. The horse then kicked the boy, reacting, according to a report from a fellow deputy quoted in the complaint, “… as anyone, human or beast, would have reacted when being collided into the rear by an unknown object.”

Because Brown allegedly knew how a horse would react to such a collision and he denied responsibility for the incident, the complaint seeks to relieve damages stemming from his alleged negligence. The damages include restitution for the child’s medical bills, and claims that Brown’s conduct was “willful and wanton.”

On Sept. 11, Brown’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the case, citing the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act, which provides government employees immunity from personal injury claims from incidents occurring during the course of official duties. They also argue that the facts referenced in the complaint were not sufficient to prove “willful and wanton” conduct by the deputy, and that the complaint was filed after a one-year statute of limitations for claims against law enforcement officers had expired.

On Oct. 2, the plaintiffs conceded that the statute of limitations had expired, and the parents agreed to drop previous claims for their lost wages. However, they still are seeking restitution for their son’s medical bills, and maintain the facts they presented support the deputy’s conduct. “Willful and wanton” conduct serves as a waiver to the immunity law, they argue.

22nd District Court Judge Todd Plewe will rule on the motion to dismiss the case after additional attorney replies Friday.

In addition to the civil complaint, Brown also faced separate criminal charges this summer for alleged harassment as an act of domestic violence. Cortez Police officers arrested him on July 26 after he allegedly shoved and twisted the wrist of his wife while inebriated.

On Tuesday, 22nd District Court Judge JenniLynn Lawrence approved a 12-month diversion agreement for the domestic violence count. The terms of the diversion require him to admit to a violation of the law, pay applicable prosecution and restitution fees, and complete an evaluation and treatment for domestic violence. However, a diversion is different from a guilty plea because the process occurs outside of the courts, according to Montezuma County District Attorney Will Furse. The courts can dismiss Brown’s charges following a successful completion of the 12-month domestic violence program.

Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin told KSJD Brown had been suspended without pay immediately following the arrest. However, the sheriff said the deputy is now on paid administrative leave due to state time limits for unpaid suspensions.

Nowlin added that an internal investigation into the July incident is still underway, and should be complete by the end of October. He declined to provide specific details, but said he expects the results of the investigation to be made public. He also emphasized that charges in a case do not constitute guilt.

“I don’t want to make predeterminations,” he said.

Brown faced previous disciplinary action after an August 2018 incident at the Dolores Schools, where he reportedly interrupted class to simulate shooting a teacher and students. At the time, Nowlin apologized for the incident and The Journal reported that Brown would face reassignment or dismissal.

Nowlin had not been aware of Brito and Crooks’ recent civil lawsuit against Brown, but said he would “let [the case] play out.”

Following the Escalante Days incident, the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office changed its policies for deputies on mounted patrol, prohibiting them from riding into crowds unless specifically called in and directing deputies to face their horses side-by-side and head-to-tail when stationed at events.

Austin Cope is a former Morning Edition host for KSJD and now produces work on a freelance basis for the station. He grew up in Cortez and hosted a show on KSJD when he was 10 years old. After graduating from Montezuma-Cortez High School in 2010, he lived in Belgium, Ohio, Spain, northern Wyoming, and Himachal Pradesh, India before returning to the Cortez area. He has a degree in Politics from Oberlin College in Ohio.