Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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There are two paths we follow when we seek the official judgment of our fellow citizens. The first path ends at the ballot box. The second concludes at the jury box.
Two years ago, Gary Wall placed himself before Routt County voters and received their assent to become Sheriff Wall. On Wednesday, Sheriff Wall stood before a county jury and was found guilty.
Guilty of driving while his ability was impaired by alcohol.
Guilty of the prohibited use of a weapon.
And - it seems trivial, but it was the purported reason for the traffic stop - guilty of failure to dim his headlights.
So the inevitable question arises. The question we ask when individuals ascend to office full of pride bestowed by the electorate, only to be humbled by a court.
Does the jury box trump the ballot box?
There are two answers.
Legally, the adjudication of guilt doesn't dethrone the sheriff. He will not lose his State of Colorado certification as a peace officer, and the state will not remove him from office.
Politically, the answer is murkier. Sheriff Wall can be recalled from office by county voters if sufficient signatures are collected to place the recall on the ballot.
No doubt some in the ever-present Sheriff Wall lynch mob will begin to measure the recall rope. This bunch has been itching to get the sheriff since election night, when talk of a "bounty" on Sheriff Wall's head became public. Time will tell whether the sheriff's entrenched enemies find a recall tree sturdy enough.
The question for the rest of us, with a more objective view of Sheriff Wall, is whether the verdict rendered should constitute a prelude to his removal.
The decision should be based on an evaluation of the sheriff's judgment and leadership.
That is to say, given the facts at the heart of the case, did the sheriff use appropriate judgment and does he maintain the leadership qualities required to effectively fulfill the duties of his office?
There is much to admire about Sheriff Wall. He showed political skill by prevailing in an election many thought he didn't have a chance to win. He correctly sensed many were tired of heavy-handed police tactics and wanted a "protect and serve" philosophy of law enforcement - with the emphasis on serve.
The sheriff has shown he has the backbone to champion his priorities before the county commissioners, which is more than can be said about those who routinely cower before them. And, he made changes within the department that improved police coverage for the county and pay for those under his command.
I will add, as someone who has spent 30 years working directly and indirectly with law enforcement, the circumstances surrounding the traffic stop of the sheriff emit an extremely foul odor. It's no secret Sheriff Wall is viewed by more than a few in police circles with the ultimate disdain reserved only for cops they think walk on the wrong side of the thin blue line. Suffice it to say, questions linger about whether the Colorado State Patrol's actions were beyond reproach.
But again, the relevant question today is one of the sheriff's judgment and leadership.
Sheriff Wall's actions on the night of Oct. 27, 2007, are all the more troubling precisely because he knew there was a "bounty" on his head and he was a "target." Yet, by his own admission, the sheriff was drinking that night at a function where there were dozens of witnesses to his having consumed alcohol and then getting behind the wheel of a Sheriff's Office vehicle.
If that is not poor judgment, I don't know what is.
It would be different if Gary Wall's title was City Council president, or county commissioner or any other elected officer other than sheriff, but it isn't.
As sheriff, he is the chief law enforcement officer of Routt County. The sheriff's actions must at all times be above reproach while simultaneously demonstrating sound judgment and providing leadership for those under his command and for the community he serves - especially our young citizens who are watching adult drinking and driving behavior.
By placing himself in a position to be found guilty of three charges arising from his actions involving alcohol while driving a Sheriff's Office vehicle in October, Sheriff Wall demonstrated he lacks the judgment required of his office.
Those same actions demonstrate he lacks the capacity of leadership necessary to lead a department and serve a community where alcohol is at the core of so many offenses.
A recall should be unnecessary.
Sheriff Wall should resign.
Rob Douglas can be reached at Douglas@privacytoday.com