On Valentine's Day, John Anderson stood in the cold outside the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum and announced he'd be running for El Paso County sheriff. Though the election isn't until November, his was a late announcement.
Anderson joined two other Republicans, Jim Reid and Bill Elder, in seeking the party's nomination, with the March 29 party assembly fast approaching. Any candidate who fails to garner 30 percent of the assembly vote needed to make the primary ballot will likely have to bow out of the race, because a tight election calendar makes petitioning onto the ballot that late in the game nearly impossible.
Anderson, 60, says voters need another choice. He says he's concerned with Elder's background — particularly the controversial absence of a disciplinary file from Elder's prior employment with the sheriff's office (see "Something missing?" cover story, Jan. 29). And he doesn't feel Reid, whose career focused on fire issues, is familiar enough with the rest of law enforcement to effectively lead the department — though he calls Reid a "noble and honorable person." (Elder has denied the existence of the file and any wrongdoing; Reid notes that he's taken courses to further educate himself in law enforcement.)
If voters support Anderson, he'd earn a third term in office, having been sheriff from 1995 to 2003 before reaching what was then the term limit. Anderson groomed current Sheriff Terry Maketa to be his successor, promoting him to undersheriff. Though the two have had some fallings-out in the past — notably, Maketa did not endorse Anderson in his failed 2006 bid for Congressional District 5 representative — the term-limited Maketa has supported Anderson's run for sheriff.
In what is likely the most important endorsement of the race, Maketa wrote, "There is no doubt in my mind, John Anderson, my predecessor and mentor, brings with him the knowledge, experience and true qualifications to lead this organization and serve this great community."
Rumors have swirled that Anderson cut a deal to keep Maketa on as a consultant, and to retain Undersheriff Paula Presley, in exchange for the endorsement. Anderson denies it. "I would not do that, and [Maketa] would not ask," he says.
Anderson does plan to keep Presley on if he's elected, saying her knowledge of the department is invaluable. He does not plan to hire Maketa as a consultant, and in fact says Maketa told him he's yearning for a year off.
Maketa could not be reached for comment.
While Anderson hasn't had many high-profile endorsements so far, former Undersheriff Donald Kessler also recently announced his support.
A cop first
When the Independent ran stories on the backgrounds of both Reid and Elder, their employment files from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office made up key components. But Anderson didn't work for the office before coming on as its elected leader.
Instead, he worked in the Colorado Springs Police Department from 1972 to 1995, ascending to the rank of sergeant. He worked in a variety of areas including traffic and patrol, investigations and professional standards.
The Independent requested Anderson's personnel and disciplinary files from the police department but was denied access. The denial notes that Anderson did not have an internal affairs (disciplinary) file, and that the city would not release his personnel file. Police Chief Pete Carey worked with Anderson at the time, but says he won't comment on his service.
One of Anderson's former co-workers had more to say. Dave Spencer, a retired CSPD detective, worked on homicide investigations with Anderson in the '80s and is still friends with him. Spencer describes Anderson during his policing days as "very meticulous, very thorough, wrote excellent reports, had a knack for interviews and interrogations, and a forward thinker."
He recalls Anderson solving the case of a teen boy who was robbed and stabbed to death in Stratton Meadows. There were no suspects in the case initially, Spencer says, but Anderson doggedly interviewed everyone in the area until he got a tip that led him to three suspects. All were convicted.
Under Anderson's leadership, the El Paso County sheriff's department solved or addressed a series of high-profile crimes, including the capture of the "red Rodeo" serial child molester in 1999 and the 1995 capture of self-proclaimed serial killer Robert Browne for the 1991 murder of 13-year-old Heather Dawn Church. The department was also involved in the 2001 capture of the "Texas Seven" — prison escapees who murdered a police officer — and in the investigation into the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. Anderson also oversaw the department during the 2002 Hayman Fire, which burned 138,000 acres outside of Colorado Springs.
But there were downsides, too. Anderson is named in a huge number of civil cases, though that's not unusual for a top-ranking law enforcement official. Common causes for the cases include "Prisoner Civil Rights" and "Petition for writ of Habeas Corpus."
While most were minor, others weren't. For instance, the department got into legal trouble for using a "restraint board" on prisoners that the coroner ruled contributed to one prisoner's death. In 2000, the county agreed to cease using the boards and to pay $50,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union to settle a suit over the devices.
In 1995, Anderson put three issues before voters asking for more tax money to increase staff and expand the jail. They all failed by about a 4-to-1 margin.
On a personal note
Anderson has been married to his second wife, Brenda, since 1996. The two have a 16-year-old daughter, Laynie. He was previously married to Pamela Anderson from 1976 until the 1990s. The two have a 33-year-old daughter together, Tiffany, who's now a local attorney.
After leaving the sheriff's office, Anderson went to work for Lockheed Martin as a systems engineer principal. There, he also served as a liaison to the U.S. departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security, and others in law enforcement.
Al Sarno, who was a senior program manager at Lockheed until he retired in March 2013, says he hired Anderson because Anderson had rare knowledge of both homeland security and law enforcement. He notes that Anderson was given the highest security clearance for his job, and was required to pass polygraphs. He also was given an unlimited corporate credit card — a rare move for one of the world's largest defense contractors and a sign of trust.
Sarno notes that Anderson was chosen to lead important projects and internal investigations around the world, and is up to speed on the latest technology used in law enforcement and the military. In fact, he was the corporate lead for advanced technology applications for law enforcement and homeland security, both domestically and internationally.
"The bottom line for me is I've been in this business for, like, 45 years and John has the highest personal standards and ethics of anybody I've come across," Sarno says.
Currently, Anderson co-owns J.W. Anderson and Associates, which focuses on legal investigations and corporate security. Anderson says he'll stop running the business if elected. He hopes, however, that he can continue his work as an adjunct professor at Regis University, specializing in criminology. He also hopes to continue work on two books: one about the county's first sheriff and another about Ute prayer trees.
Anderson serves on several boards and committees. He holds a master's degree in business administration from Regis University, a bachelor's in business administration from Regis College, and an associate degree in applied science from Pikes Peak Community College. He owns one home, in the northern end of the county, worth $287,387.