How a Shady Cop Kept Getting New Jobs—and Then Became Chief

·11 min read
Courtesy of Colorado Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office
Courtesy of Colorado Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office

When Joe Klingan hired Jon Geiger to be a police officer for the tiny police department in the tiny town of Nunn, Colorado (population 500), he believed the 52-year-old was providing a complete picture of his background.

Yes, Geiger—a former cop from another tiny police department in the Denver suburb of Georgetown, 120 miles away—had pleaded guilty to a harassment charge in 2018 after grabbing a man out of a holding cell and wrenching his arm behind his back. And yes, he had been decertified by the Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) board, a state agency, as a law-enforcement officer after his conviction in that case.

But by the time Geiger was applying for the position in Nunn, the decision by the board had been reversed on appeal, and Geiger had a valid license to be an officer of the law.

“Everything sounded legitimate,” Clingan told The Daily Beast of hiring Geiger.

It was a decision he’s come to regret.

As the Denver Post reported on Monday, Geiger was supposed to be barred from being a police officer because of his past, which included checkered stops in previous police departments in addition to his conviction in Georgetown. Clingan said it was the first time he learned about Geiger’s previous law-enforcement experience in other small towns in Colorado, as well as a small town in Kansas.

In interviews, current and former officials told The Daily Beast Geiger left those departments under the cloud of sometimes vague internal investigations. His re-emergence and rise to new power has shocked many who are familiar with him, a saga that speaks to larger issues in the state and in the country when officers bounce between departments.

Geiger did not respond to requests for comment for this story, nor did officials from the town of Nunn.

Clingan said that if he knew then what he knows now about Geiger, he never would have hired him. Instead, Geiger joined the small force in Nunn in April, and when Clingan retired as chief of police in May, Geiger—with less than a month on the job—was named as his interim replacement. The promotion came against Clingan’s wishes, the ex-chief said.

It’s just the latest stop in what former employers and others familiar with Geiger describe as a disturbing career.

It is unclear when Geiger’s work in law enforcement began. But Brian Ahern, the former chair of the local police Citizen Advisory Board and a nightclub manager in the city of Telluride, Colorado, said he became aware of Geiger after he joined that city’s police department—called the Telluride Marshals—in 2008.

His impression was not a positive one.

Ahern said he made written complaints about Geiger to the town manager numerous times, providing The Daily Beast with a copy of one such complaint, made on March 30, 2011, in an email to then-town manager Greg Clifton.

In the complaint, Ahern states that a female employee of his told him that she’d recently gotten a ride home from Geiger, and that he drove erratically down a local street and topped out at speeds over 80 mph before he hit a bull elk on the road and totaled the police car. Ahern went on to state that without concern for his passengers, the female employee said Geiger flagged down a car passing by and convinced them to take the woman in their car so Geiger could “save his own ass.”

In the complaint, Ahern went on to say that Telluride Marshals shouldn’t transport people unless they are detained, and claimed Geiger had a “reputation for escorting girls” in his patrol car from late-night parties with his partner.

“Here you have [two] officers patrolling at night more concerned with following bachelorette parties on their pub crawl than actually being cops,” he wrote.

Clifton, who no longer works for the city of Telluride, told The Daily Beast he remembered the complaint and that he recalled receiving other complaints about Geiger during his time at Telluride. He said all complaints “were taken seriously.”

But Ahern said his March 2011 complaint and others were unheeded by the Marshal's Department and the Seventh Judicial District Attorney’s Office, who he said did not take the appropriate action against Geiger during his time with the Marshals and instead “let him leave town” in 2012.

The Seventh Judicial District Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for the Telluride Marshal’s Department said Geiger worked for the department “several years ago” but said they could not address “personnel matters.”

According to a June 2012 article in the Telluride Daily Planet, Geiger was no longer employed at the Telluride Marshal's Department by May of that year because of “conduct and other issues.” According to the outlet, Geiger left after an internal investigation, and a letter from the Seventh District Attorney said that he had been “subject to scrutiny from some members of the community.”

Clifton, the former town manager, told The Daily Beast that an internal investigation led to Geiger’s departure, but said he could not comment on the probe. It was not clear if the email complaint made by Ahern was connected to Geiger’s departure, and he was never charged with a crime.

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Two years later, Geiger was back on the beat: He served a brief stint as an officer at another small police department in Ellis, Kansas, according to current and former officials.

According to minutes from Ellis city meetings, Geiger was hired by the police department in January of 2014. But by September of that year, the city council voted unanimously to suspend him, pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

Taft Yates, the chief of police of the Ellis Police Department at the time, told The Daily Beast that Geiger was never formally suspended, because he left the department in the midst of the internal affairs investigation. He said he could not recall if Geiger was fired or resigned.

Yates added that Geiger left under “peculiar circumstances” and that the cop often found himself in problem situations during his short tenure with the police department. However, the ex-chief declined to go into detail.

Yates said that when he hired Geiger, he was aware of “issues” surrounding his time in Telluride. Still, he said, he was willing to take Geiger on because he hadn’t been convicted of a crime.

“I gave him a chance,” he said. “He did not make the best choices with that chance being given to him.”

Even if he did slip through the cracks of accountability in various gigs over the years, Geiger was ultimately charged with a crime—a rarity for police in America.

Of course, by then, he had gotten a new job.

According to a statement from the Colorado Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office, Geiger was indicted in March 2018 for a physical assault on Eric Magne, who he had arrested two years earlier for driving under the influence in Georgetown, Colorado. In a video of the encounter, Geiger is working at a computer while Magne is in a holding cell. When Magne slams the door open and closed repeatedly, Geiger gets up, pulls Magne out of the cell, and twists his wrist into a lock while pressing up against the wall.

Magne was later slammed against another wall by Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Deputies, allegedly suffering a brain injury. In July 2018, Geiger pleaded guilty to a charge of harassment and was sentenced to one-year probation, community service, and anger management classes.

Magne declined to comment for this story, citing an ongoing lawsuit.

Yates, Geiger’s former boss in Ellis, Kansas, said that when he learned about the video behind his ex-employee’s subsequent criminal conviction and his de-certification as a law enforcement officer, he believed the penalty was just. He said he was baffled by the decision of the Colorado standards board to reinstate Geiger in 2020.

“This is why agencies get a bad name,” Yates said. “How overall law enforcement gets a bad name. Because I will tell you like this: What I saw on that video and what I had heard, I don’t know how he can be working for any agency.”

Documents obtained by The Daily Beast show that Geiger’s certification as a law enforcement officer was revoked in July 2018 after his guilty plea in Georgetown. In a January 2020 hearing, his certification was revoked yet again, despite a letter Geiger submitted to the board in his defense.

In the letter, Geiger said he’d extended “professionalism” to Magne during his stop and investigation and arrest process, but that the suspect became “agitated” while in the holding cell. Geiger said he put him in a wrist lock to gain compliance.

“In my experience, this is an acceptable course of action,” the embattled cop wrote.

Geiger wrote that, at the time, he was working as a “traffic control specialist” to maintain work related to law enforcement. “I have a passion to serve the community in keeping with my sense of civic duty.”

He also said that his charge was “confounding and distressing,” but that he pleaded guilty because he’d recently suffered the death of his 7-month-old grandson from a genetic disorder. “I was emotionally exhausted and I took a plea to get this matter behind me and focus on helping my daughter cope with the death of her son,” he wrote.

After Geiger’s appeal to the POST board in March 2020, the agency found that “mitigating circumstances” warranted an exemption from him being decertified and that his certification as a law enforcement officer in the state would “be in the public interest.”

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The board never discusses previous allegations of misconduct in Kansas or Telluride in any of the documents from the proceedings viewed by The Daily Beast. They also did not discuss any of the policy violations that Randy Williams, Town Marshall of the Georgetown Police Department, said led to Geiger leaving that department in March 2017—before he was ever criminally charged in the Magne case.

It is unclear if members of the board were aware of the other past allegations against Geiger. In a statement, a spokesperson for the Colorado POST board told The Daily Beast that officers facing a revoked license are “entitled to due process,” and that after Geiger’s appeal, a subcommittee of the board voted unanimously to reinstate him.

Williams, Geiger’s former boss in Georgetown, said that Geiger’s actions against Magne in October 2016 were reviewed at the time and found to be “in line with policy.”

“There was nothing egregious about the actions there,” he told The Daily Beast.

But he said Geiger resigned in 2017 because of policy violations that “could have led to a sexual harassment issue.” Williams said they concerned a co-worker of Geiger’s.

“It was just, in the current climate, you can’t play. There is no playing allowed,” Williams told The Daily Beast, declining to provide further details.

Williams said that aside from the “personal” issues at the end of his time with the department, Geiger was a good officer. “He was not a thug,” he said.

But like others, he also said that his background check into Geiger turned up “varying opinions” and little information about how he left his previous jobs.

Ahern, the Telluride nightclub owner and past police-reform watchdog, said Geiger’s checkered past and ability to slip through the cracks was something that needed to be addressed in the state.

“He should have never been allowed to wear the badge after he left Telluride,” he said. “But because he was given a free pass, this is what happens.”

Ahern was hopeful that a comprehensive police-accountability bill that passed in the state last year will help curb the issue.

Colorado state Representative Leslie Herod, who sponsored the legislation, told The Daily Beast it will create a statewide registry that will include all instances when officers resign while under investigation for violating policies, and note when officers have been found to break policies. It will also make the revocation of an officer’s certification permanent and irreversible if an officer is convicted or pleads guilty to the unlawful use or threatened use of force.

Herod, who said she was now familiar with Geiger’s past, suggested the bill was intended to try and stop problem officers from finding loopholes to continue a law enforcement career in the state.

“We’ve got to address officers who lack accountability and believe they are above the law,” she said.

In the meantime, some of those who have come into contact with Geiger can’t help but wonder about the pain that might have been avoided if they had sounded the alarm louder, or been heard sooner.

“We had the opportunity here in Telluride to do the right thing back then,” Ahern said. “All those times that I complained. Each and every one of them wasn’t a big deal, but if you stack them all up, they kind of unveiled this cloak of secrecy that was given to law enforcement for so long.”

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