by Pam Zubeck
The Board of El Paso County Commissioners has directed the County Attorney’s Office to coordinate an independent review and investigation into employment complaints at the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.
The law firm of Sherman and Howard, which has extensive expertise in employment law, was retained earlier this week to assist with the review and investigation in conjunction with preparations to represent the County and the Sheriff's Office in any possible future litigation, and to protect the rights of the employees involved.
Today, the Board further directed the County Attorney’s Office to retain separate outside legal counsel to act as counsel for the Sheriff’s Office. “We want everyone to understand that the Commissioners are extremely concerned about these allegations and are committed to a thorough and independent investigation of these complaints in full compliance with all applicable laws,” said Commissioner Amy Lathen. “While we find it troubling to allocate taxpayer resources for these investigations and possible litigation, we recognize the need to find the truth for all people involved and are obligated under state law to defend the county and its elected officials. We will expedite all matters related to this investigation as quickly as possible,” Lathen concluded.
While the Board of County Commissioners was aware of media reports, rumors and innuendo related to the Sheriff’s office several years ago, a letter received May 12, 2014, was the first such complaint brought to the attention of County administration by a county employee and pursuant to county policies. Commissioners conferred with the County Attorney the next day, May 13, 2014, and the Sheriff was sent written notification on May 16 of the Board’s decision to retain outside counsel to conduct an independent investigation.
The Office of the Sheriff is an independent statutory county office under Colorado law. The Board of County Commissioners has no authority to remove any sitting elected official. The Board of County Commissioners has statutory responsibility for financial oversight of all County offices. The Board does not manage the Sheriff's Office budget directly, but the budget is audited annually by the Board. If the Office of the Sheriff becomes vacant for any reason, the Board of County Commissioners has statutory authority to make an appointment to fill the vacancy.
The El Paso County Employee Manual establishes a process for employees to bring workforce complaints to their supervisors or directly to the county's division of Employee Benefits and Medical Services. The Office of the County Attorney has also historically accepted employment related complaints.This statement was released by the sheriff, according to local news outlets:
While the Board of County Commissioners and County Administration is aware of rumors and speculation in print media reports several years ago, there were no related workforce complaints received. Absent any such complaints, the Board believed that it would be irresponsible to use public resources to take action based solely on gossip, rumors and innuendo.
A workforce complaint was received by County Administration on May 12, 2014. The Board scheduled a conference with the County Attorney the next day and the Sheriff was formally notified in a letter (attached) from the entire board, delivered on May 16, 2014 that an independent employment and personnel investigation would be launched immediately to determine if there is any veracity to these complaints. The law firm of Sherman and Howard has been retained by the Board of County Commissioners to offer additional legal expertise.
The Office of the Sheriff is an independent county office under state statutes. The Board of County Commissioners has statutory responsibility for the oversight of all county budget and financial operations.
A routine annual county audit is currently in progress. It should be noted that at least a month before any of these complaints were received the Sheriff had requested an additional "transition" audit be conducted into the financial operations of his Office as soon as possible to assure an orderly transition for the incoming Sheriff.
At this time, upon the advice of legal counsel, Sheriff Terry Maketa has no comment. An independent outside investigator is conducting the investigation and the Sheriff plans to fully cooperate in every way, both legally and with the investigation. Once the investigation is completed, then any comments or statements will be forthcoming.