For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Rob Douglas: Does one box trump the other?

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Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Douglas here.

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

Comments

ColoradoNative 6 years ago

"The decision should be based on an evaluation of the sheriff's judgment and leadership."

The sheriff is suppose to serve and protect right? Drunk drivers kill people. Drunk driving with a loaded gun? I'm just glad he did kill anyone or himself that night.

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hereandthere 6 years ago

Enough said. Let the recall begin, and the voters will decide what kind of Sheriff we want.

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summerbird 6 years ago

Did Wall ever complete that course he was supposed to take within a year of being elected?

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almostlocal 6 years ago

As an officer of the law, Sheriff Wall should know, as anyone who has lived in the Steamboat area for more than one day does, if you have a drink and you get in your car, you have an extremely high chance of getting pulled over for some reason and getting accused of drinking and driving. Whether it is one drink or 20 drinks or even no drinks, if you give them a reason to pull you over - failing to dim your headlights being the biggest reason of all, they will be suspicious of your sobriety. Gary Wall knows this. His employees do this. He must have thought he was above this rule and above the law. Whether he thinks someone is "out to get him" it doesn't matter. He had a drink. He didn't dim his headlights. He got pulled over. Join the club of the many, many people in Steamboat and Routt County who go to dinner, have a glass of wine and then drive home. Maybe they have a cracked windshield. Maybe they don't 100% stop at a stop sign. They get pulled over. With the BAC of .08% it does not take much to get charged with a DUI or DWAI. It is all illegal. So Gary, stop passing the buck and being so paranoid that people are out to get you - you are a public official and must stand up to scrutiny. You got busted for doing something illegal and even though you are the sheriff, you have to pay the price. DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE! You would think that would be common sense for everyone, certainly the SHERIFF.

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Aspengold 6 years ago

It is not illegal to have one glass of wine over the course of an evening and drive. The voters DID decide which kind of Sheriff we want. Let us have him. Those who want a different kind, use the time-honored process of elections.

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rsssco 6 years ago

Aspengold, So you think the jury got it wrong?

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Aspengold 6 years ago

I wasn't there, it's hard to say, but it would hardly be the first time.

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Matthew Stoddard 6 years ago

Aspengold- if you weren't there so how do you know for sure it was only 1 glass of wine?

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hereandthere 6 years ago

Wall supporter (Aspengold), I don't believe we voted for a Sheriff convicted of a criminal act. There is a reason that a recall process has been put in place, and can probably be considered "time honored" as well.

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nmypinon 6 years ago

So is there a recall petition anywhere out flying around to be signed?

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steamboatsconscience 6 years ago

I doubt it. just hot wind blowing around here.

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tsegler 6 years ago

Alcohol is not a demon, or the enemy, or even evil. People who drink responsibly should be left alone to do so.

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Aspengold 6 years ago

one deputy said he appeared to be sober, one said he appeared to be impaired, contradicting what he himself said on the night in question. multiple credible witnesses testified he did not appear impaired. does reasonable doubt still apply in court?

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Matthew Stoddard 6 years ago

Aspengold- You didn't say the other deputies full testimony about not wanting to make a decision either way. That is what didn't sound credible.

So, you have a bunch of people at a party where Wall admitted to having "1 glass of wine" with a bunch of witnesses that might or might not have been drinking themselves and some that are known campaign contributors to Wall.

vs.

1 Deputy who testified that based on his observations, he would have arrested Wall. His taped statement was played where he said he didn't notice, but it seems to be taken out of context. Ron Smith even says that the rest of the tape wasn't needed because it would only re-emphasize Eldridge's court testimony. That means Smith admitted that Eldridge had said something on that tape that coincided with the court testimony he gave.

vs.

1 Deputy who said he didn't observe that Wall looked drunk, but then said he didn't want to make a judgement either way about it. His job as a deputy IS to make the judgement call, but since it wasn't his arrest, he didn't bother.

The jury obviously took reseasonable doubt into consideration.

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stbt72 6 years ago

Don't you people get it. Cops Lie to get the result they want and too many of you unknowing ones, including the D.A.'s and judges, believe they are telling the truth. Hilling, for example, has a reputation for chicken.... stops that lead to bogus arrests. Wall was not the exception here, just an example of the rule.

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Matthew Stoddard 6 years ago

So, then stbt72 is saying that maybe Mackey was lying, too? Wall, as sheriff, is still an officer of the law- that means he was lying, then, also. Thanks for bringing that up!

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bubba 6 years ago

I just don't understand the wall supporters on this. He admitted to drinking and then driving, which is drinking and driving. He claims that he hadn't had enough to drink to impair his abilities, whereas initially he claimed that 'I did not drink anything that would impair my abilities.' So he is drinking and driving, which is not a crime, unless you are over a very small limit, and the only way to prove that you are not over that limit was offered, and he declined. Now why would a rational person turn down the only test that could prove their innocence unless they doubted their ability to pass that test? Really, someone give me 1 good reason.

Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law does not apply to drinking and driving for anyone else, why should it apply for the sheriff? Again, he turned down his only opportunity to prove his innocence. If someone can cite 1 case where a person refused a breathalyzer and was NOT found guilty of some drinking and driving offense, I would love to hear about it, but I doubt there is a single case.

So there's your challenge: 1) Explain why a sober person would refuse a breathalyzer. 2) Cite a case where someone refused a breathalyzer and did not get a DUI or DWAI.

Unless you can meet both of those challenges, then I see no reason why Wall should have been treated any differently than the rest of us would in the same circumstance.

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grannyrett 6 years ago

Great article Rob. If you have a brain, use it, don't drink and drive--at all--ever.

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