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State Republican Party claims senator abused power by calling police chief to reopen case

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- The Colorado Republican Party is considering censuring State Senator Larry Liston for “abuse of power” after he is accused of calling the Colorado Springs Police Chief to reopen a harassment case against a fellow GOP member.

State GOP Executive Committee member Brad Collins filed a proposed censure resolution against Liston, which said he “willfully and maliciously engaged in the act of lawfare against a private citizen; intentionally using his influence in political office to bring harm to those he has been entrusted to represent.”

The allegations claim Liston used his political position to influence a misdemeanor case against Rex Tonkins, the husband of El Paso County GOP chair Vickie Tonkins, despite the initial officer on the case not finding probable cause.

“The actions of Mr. Liston, based on the evidence that I saw in my opinion, seemed a bit suspect,” Collins said. “It seemed as if he may have used his leverage as being in the position he's in to inflict what I would call harm upon an innocent man.”

The incident happened in December 2021 at an El Paso County Republican meeting. Liston told 13 Investigates the meeting got very controversial and had to be postponed. He said as he was preparing to leave the meeting when Rex Tonkins “chest bumped” him.

“he came up. And he just brought me in a very aggressive manner since Cliff's, you know, closed and I mean, I was stunned.”

Tonkins told 13 Investigates he confronted Liston about his voting record but said he never made any physical contact with him.

The next day Liston decided to file a police report claiming he was assaulted and harassed.

“I woke up the next morning and decided what happened to me was harassment and assault and my rights don't end just because I'm a state senator,” Liston said. “I do have rights, so I pursued it and contacted the authorities.”

13 Investigates obtained police body camera footage from the day Liston filed a police report. He tells officers if there is evidence of assault or harassment, he wants to press charges.

However, according to the police report, days later, the officer on the case “determined due to conflicting statements I did not have probable cause.” The police report said the patrol investigation was complete and there was nothing further to be done.

But Liston told 13 Investigates he believed the case needed to be further investigated and the initial officer on the case was a “rookie” and didn’t know the entirety of the case. In an interview with Colorado Springs Police, Liston admits to calling Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez.

“I just can’t accept and let this go and let it be,” Liston told a Colorado Springs Police officer in a video obtained by 13 Investigates. “I’m a very easygoing and understanding person but this takes it to a whole new level. I felt like I should reach out. Adrian, I’ll call him Commander Vaquez, I called him and told him and apparently, he got in touch with somebody. I felt like I had to.”

Liston told 13 Investigates that he doesn’t have a personal relationship with Vasquez and that calling the Chief of Police was not an abuse of power and said any citizen can do it.

During the same interview, Liston handed the CSPD officer a senate bill that had recently been passed, which made retaliation against an elected official a felony.

“That is law now,” Liston told the officer. “It is my belief that what Tonkins did fits under the definition of that.”

According to police documents, the case was reinvestigated and months later harassment charges were filed with the city attorney’s office. Tonkins said he was shocked when he was told he had been charged.

“How is this possible that this could happen? I knew he had friends in the city and they work together,” Tonkins said. “That's the first thing that came to my mind, like that's the only way this could have happened.”

13 Investigates reached out to the Colorado Springs Police Department about the case, but we haven’t heard back. Last month, Tonkins was found not guilty in municipal court.

“We had the trial and it wasted time and money, taxpayer money, to go to this trial for a political attack,” Tonkins said.

The Colorado Republican Party is now considering a censure against Liston for the alleged “abuse of power.” The vote was supposed to take place Wednesday but has been postponed. Collins said a vote will eventually take place.

Liston said the censure is a way to smear his upcoming re-election campaign because he disagrees with the leadership of the local and state Republican party.

“The people who run the party, both at the local level and at the state level, are radical populists,” Liston said. “If you don't agree with them, they want to run you out of the party and call you a RINO.”

The Colorado GOP Chair Dave Williams said this has nothing to do with a rift within the Republican Party.

“This is not about an internal party dispute among Republicans,” he said. “This is potentially an abuse of power scandal involving Senator Larry Liston and Deputy Police Chief Adrian Vasquezto unfairly reopen a closed case that lacked probable cause while also trying to increase potential criminal penalties against an innocent citizen, whom Senator Liston had a political disagreement with.”

The state GOP said it will be asking Colorado Springs Mayor Yemi Mobolade to investigate the “alleged misconduct between Senator Liston and Deputy Police Chief Vasquez that led to apparent wrongful prosecution in this matter.”

The City of Colorado Springs said it hasn't received a request from the state GOP to initiate an investigation, but said they won't be opening an investigation into Chief Vasquez.

The District Attorney’s Office determined there was probable cause for harassment charges for Mr. Tonkins but it requested to have the case tried in Municipal Court in order to have consistency due to another similar case being tried in Municipal Court. Therefore there are no grounds for an investigation of Chief Vasquez regarding this matter.

- City of Colorado Springs
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Quinn Ritzdorf

Quinn is a reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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