Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Steamboat Springs Colorado State Patrol troopers could have arrested Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall on suspicion of driving under the influence Saturday night, even though Wall is the county's top law enforcement officer.
Colorado Attorney General spokesman Nate Strauch said Tuesday that "any certified police officer can make the arrest" of a county sheriff. Had Wall been arrested on U.S. Highway 40 after leaving a Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association party at Sidney Peak Ranch, Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg might have received a phone call.
Colorado state statutes require that "when the sheriff for any cause is committed to the jail of his county, the coroner shall be keeper of such jail during the time the sheriff remains a prisoner." Another state statute requires the coroner to fulfill the duties of the sheriff when the sheriff is disqualified or a party to a case.
Ryg said Tuesday that he was not contacted Saturday night when troopers cited Wall for DUI, prohibitive use of a weapon and failure to dim his headlights.
The prohibitive use of a weapon charge was made because it is illegal to possess a weapon when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. That charge and the DUI charge are Class 1 misdemeanors that carry a minimum sentence of six months imprisonment or a $500 fine, or both. The maximum sentences are 18 months imprisonment or a $5,000 fine, or both.
Ryg said he has researched what role he would have played had Wall been arrested and what his role may be going forward.
"We are in the process of trying to figure that out right now," Ryg said. "I never expected to participate in this. It never has happened as far as I know in Routt County."
Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle, who is president of the County Sheriffs of Colorado, said the state statutes involving the coroner have not been revised since the 1930s and were written "anticipating a situation where the only law enforcement agent in the county is the sheriff."
"I don't think it anticipated state patrol," Pelle said. "I don't think it anticipated home-ruled police stations."
Despite the legal fuzziness regarding the arrest of a sheriff, Pelle said that probably wasn't a factor in the decision to not arrest Wall.
"People are frequently not taken to jail for DUIs across the state," he said.
Pelle said pretrial detention is to ensure someone appears in court through practices such as obtaining their fingerprints, taking their picture and making them post bond. A public figure like Wall is not likely to skip a court appearance, Pelle said.
"That was probably not a concern of the state troopers," he said.
After issuing a court summons Saturday night, Colorado State Patrol troopers Melissa Fowler and Brett Hilling allowed Wall to leave with an unidentified sober driver.
Wall has maintained his innocence and denies being intoxicated. Wall refused any further comment Tuesday on the advice of his lawyer, Steamboat Springs attorney Ron Smith.
The Routt County Sheriff's Office has opened an internal affairs investigation to be conducted separate of the State Patrol's criminal investigation. The internal affairs investigation will seek to determine whether Wall violated Sheriff's Office policies or procedures. Routt County Sheriff's Office investigators Ken Klinger and Mike Curzon and Sgt. Miles De Young will lead the investigation and submit a report to Undersheriff David Bustos.
While such investigations can result in ramifications up to and including termination, Wall could not be removed from office except through a recall election. On Tuesday, Klinger addressed concerns raised about the Sheriff's Office investigating its own boss.
"The reason we're doing it is because it is in our policies that it be done," Klinger said. "We can't choose which procedures we do and do not follow."
A state official said Tuesday that Wall's citations would not hinder the sheriff's pending completion of peace officer certification.
John Kammerzell, director of the state's Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, said only felonies and a few select misdemeanors can jeopardize an officer's certification.
"There are very particular misdemeanors that, upon conviction, can result in suspension or revocation of peace officer certification," Kammerzell said.
Wall, elected to office last year, has until mid-January to complete three tests and earn his peace officer certification, Kammerzell said. State statute requires sheriffs without certification to obtain it within a year of taking office.