Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Steamboat Springs Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall's decision to cut county funding for a regional drug task force was both applauded and criticized Tuesday during a public meeting hosted by county commissioners.
Wall decided last week to cut his department's annual funding to the Greater Routt and Moffat Narcotics Enforcement Team. The Sheriff's Office previously has provided about $115,000 a year to the task force, which included the salary and benefits of a deputy assigned to GRAMNET.
When announcing the decision, Wall questioned the effectiveness of GRAMNET and the tactics used by task force officers. He alleged they have violated the civil liberties of suspects.
During Tuesday's meeting, Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James said Wall's claims are unfounded.
"I just don't see our courts finding or confirming Sheriff Wall's anecdotal experiences," he said.
St. James also said Wall was "naÃive" to think he would have better success enforcing drug laws with a uniformed deputy than an undercover GRAMNET officer, and he criticized Wall's suggestion to spend money on creating additional drug awareness programs in schools to build trust with parents and students.
Wall defended his decision to cut GRAMNET funding, saying he was fulfilling promises he made during his campaign for sheriff.
"It's very important to me to do what I said I was going to do," he said. "For me to support GRAMNET with what I know would be a slap in the face to those who elected me."
GRAMNET task force commander Garrett Wiggins, who ran against Wall in the November sheriff's election, asked Wall to back up his "frivolous accusations" that GRAMNET officers had violated civil liberties.
Wall said he would not divulge that information because he had sworn confidentiality to his sources. However, later in the meeting, Wall read what he said was a transcript of two GRAMNET officers intimidating someone into becoming an informant.
Wiggins said Wall was "taking bits and pieces" of the conversation and "not presenting the whole story."
Commissioner Doug Mon-ger stopped the exchange, saying it was inappropriate.
Wall also said the Sheriff's Office would continue to enforce drug laws and investigations using its own officers. Wall suggested the funds that would have gone to GRAMNET be used to strengthen educational programs in the county's schools and create a school resource officer position.
"Right now, people are afraid to come to the police with information (about drugs) because they think their kid is going to get charged or turned into a snitch," Wall said. "In time, I think we can develop a trust with parents and children so they feel comfortable coming to us to share information."
Oak Creek resident Richard Krause praised Wall's efforts to protect his rights.
"I'm an American," he said. "We voted for Gary Wall as a republic, and we should back him up and support what he's doing to protect our civil liberties and constitutional rights. We're forgetting what our constitution meant to us 200 years ago."
Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said the intent of Tuesday's forum was to give residents the chance to discuss the GRAMNET decision with the sheriff.
"I am sorry there are people in this room who feel like we brought Sheriff Wall in to be put on trial," she said. "We feel an important, critical decision has been made by the sheriff and that the community should know what's going on."
Stahoviak suggested anyone with questions or comments about the GRAMNET decision call Wall at the Routt County Sheriff's Office.
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