Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins and his Undersheriff Ray Birch say they have been putting in 60- to 70-hour workweeks in order to shore up the office they took charge of Jan. 11.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins and his Undersheriff Ray Birch say they have been putting in 60- to 70-hour workweeks in order to shore up the office they took charge of Jan. 11.

Routt County sheriff works to overhaul agency

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— When Garrett Wiggins was sworn in as Routt County sheriff Jan. 11, an immediate inventory of the evidence room would help set the tone for how his administration would be run.

When the inventory was complete, it was discovered that $300 to $400 was missing, and a bag containing a white powdery substance from an old case had been opened and the powder was gone. The powder could have been sent to a lab for testing, but there was no documentation to show that is what happened. As for the cash, who knows.

The way evidence is handled can determine whether criminals are sent to prison or set free, Wiggins said, so he assigned someone to address how evidence is processed and to modernize the room.

“It was nobody’s baby,” Wiggins said. “It was just there.”

Wiggins and his undersheriff, former Hayden Police Chief Ray Birch, said they have been putting in 60- to 70-hour workweeks since taking office.

“Basically we’re starting from the ground up,” Wiggins said. “It’s like building a new agency.”

Putting policy to paper

Improperly handling evidence can lead to cases getting thrown out of court. The same thing can happen if deputies do not follow the laws and policies that are in place to guide them.

“We can’t figure out what is a current manual,” Wiggins said. “There are like five different manuals here.”

Wiggins and Birch said they are undertaking a huge task in updating and documenting department policies. Birch said the job took him 14 months in Hayden.

The plan is to enlist the help of a company to create a new policy manual. The 49 employees then would need to be taught the policies, which is an ongoing process that would require deputies to test their knowledge daily through online quizzes.

“Writing policy is a huge issue in law enforcement,” Wiggins said. “It’s very important that you are accurate and it’s lawful.”

Some policies already have been changed, such as the one put in place by former Sheriff Gary Wall that allowed deputies to use their patrol vehicles for personal purposes. Wall said that would allow the agency to have an increased presence in the community. Wiggins called the policy very liberal and said he made it clear when he took office that using the vehicles for personal purposes was no longer allowed.

“They could use their vehicle to take someone on a date,” Wiggins said. “They would use their vehicle for personal business.”

Personnel changes

When Wiggins entered the office, it nearly was fully staffed, and it mostly has remained that way.

Wiggins brought in Kim Gittleson to replace Michelle Kuntz as his administrative assistant, and Sgt. Miles DeYoung left to take a position in Woodland Park, Wiggins said.

With DeYoung leaving and an existing vacant deputy position, Wiggins and Birch have decided to create two corporal positions that would rank between a patrol deputy and sergeant.

The jail detention side of the Routt County Sheriff’s Office also is going to see changes. Birch now oversees the jail, but a promotion process is under way to hire a jail lieutenant.

“It’s very important to get that promotion filled,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins and Birch hope the changes bring unity to the command — a unity they say was nonexistent in the detention and patrol/investigations units.

“There was absolutely no structure,” Birch said. “I’ll just say this: very little accountability and procedure.”

Getting along

Critics of Wall have said he did not play well with others outside his agency.

“When Sheriff Wall became sheriff, there was — forgive the pun — more of a wall put up between the commissioners and the Sheriff’s Office,” Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.

Wiggins has been a welcome change, Stahoviak said.

“He’s communicating a lot with the commissioners, the county manager and the other departments,” she said. “I think we’ll have a sheriff’s department that we’ll be proud of.”

Other law enforcement officials have been pleased with Wiggins’ efforts.

“It’s nice to have a sheriff that’s more law-enforcement-oriented,” said Steamboat Springs Police Chief JD Hays, who supported Wiggins during the campaign.

Hays said he’s glad that Wiggins is looking at ways of being more active in the schools. The decision to rejoin the multi-agency All Crimes Enforcement Team has been a positive move, as well, Hays said. Steamboat police and the Sheriff’s Office also are creating a joint tactical team to respond to major incidents.

Lawsuit settled

When Wiggins entered office, he became part of an existing lawsuit between the Sheriff’s Office and Routt County.

Wall had obtained legal counsel outside of the county’s, and the county refused to pay the bills. The Law Offices of Ralph A. Cantafio wanted to be paid close to $17,000 in legal bills. Lawsuits were exchanged and since have been dismissed. The county settled the case for $10,000, County Attorney John Merrill said.

“It kind of cleared the deck for a more cooperative relationship between the board and the sheriff,” Merrill said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

ftpheide 3 years, 6 months ago

Good job Sheriff Wiggins- Now that the tax payers will no longer be providing personal transportation for the deputies can the "milage fees", that were levied on the county residence, be removed? What happened to Wall's evidence tech.? She was the one incharge of evidence room during his term in office. She should know what happened to the money and " the white powder".

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

If the big issues was a few hundred dollars of missing evidence and an empty little bag of white powder then I cannot get too upset at Sheriff Wall's administration of the dept. ACET under Wiggins had a greater amount of untraceable cash and an independent report finding a number of issues. And ACET is a fraction of the size of the Sheriff's dept. Maybe Wiggins learned from the issues at ACET and is doing a fine job, but this does not prove that he is an improvement over the previous sheriff.

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ftpheide 3 years, 6 months ago

The missing evidence, a large sum of money and possibly some drugs ,was the evidence tech's responsibility. That was her job! Why isn't she accountable? Is she still employed by the SO?

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

Read the independent report on ACET. By your standards then the commander of ACET should have been fired.

A complete inventory finds a missing drug sample bag and is short $300-$400. That actually sounds like a pretty good job was being done if that is all they could find wrong.

ACET under Wiggins lost more cash than that.

Maybe Wiggins is improving things at the Sheriff's dept, but if this sort of stuff indicates that Wall was doing a poor job then what about the stuff that went on at ACET under Wiggins and the independent report of those management issues?

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ftpheide 3 years, 6 months ago

Scott, Drop the defending of Wall. Wall is the past. I'm wondering why their isn't an investigation as to why money and possible drugs are missing from the evidence room at the SO? If this person worked in the "private sector" she would have been handcuffed and hauled off to jail.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

A difference of $300-$400 in the private sector when there is no evidence that the person took it does not result in arrests.

And if this sort of money being lost is such a big deal to you then read the independent ACET report which will presumably result in you doing a citizen's arrest of Wiggins.

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ftpheide 3 years, 6 months ago

Scott, When only one person handles the evidence and it's not only money but drugs- there is an problem! When you have to answer to the tax payers the problem doubles.

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Kristopher Hammond 3 years, 6 months ago

Obviously, voting Wall out wasn't enough. We should do all we can to criticize and humiliate him at every opportunity. In fact, we should create opportunities to do so. These articles help. Keep them coming!

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

Let's see what errors is found when they do a full inventory next year.

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sledneck 3 years, 6 months ago

He doesn't need our help. A sheriff with a DUI transmits 5 by 5.

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mavis 3 years, 6 months ago

I know I am going to be slammed for this ... but here it goes...

Scott... at some point could you please back off and not project yourself and the expert on everything from the school system, law enforcement and YVHA.. Really I have spent a great deal of time unfortunately dealing with several agencies recently. I have to say the SO department so far in the past few weeks has been the most responsive, helpfull and well within understanding the reality of certain situations. They actually know what they are doing and follow through. Government systems are very messed up from education to law enforcement right now. Given that the Sherriff's office at this point has been the most realistic and informative in providing guidance and solutions for circumstances that are out of the general publics control.
Scott you are somewhat confined to your own reality and are missing the logistics of everyone elses reality and life.

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Tommie Belz 3 years, 6 months ago

Now correct me IF I'm wrong...As I perused the county budgets for 09. 10, and 11, I see the "Evidence Tech" received a nice raise in 2010 along with a Title change. This, mind you, all during a freeze of any wage increases. In fact, I believe there was a mandatory 10% pay reduction. From Evidence Tech to Special Deputy, so as to allow this new position to display a badge and most likely a weapon. How difficult can it be to keep up with a little baggie of white powder and some cash.

Detective 101, has anyone Investigated the Special Deputy? Secondly, was this from Walls term or a prior administration? Thirdly, who did the inventory prior to Wall taking office? (wasn't it the SSPD evidence tech). Fourthly, who was the evidence tech during the administration prior to Wall?

Where's TCB when we need him?

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Tommie Belz 3 years, 6 months ago

And before I forget, while perusing those public documents I found that ONE Sergeant makes 20K more a year than the other two. I hope this isn't the same Sgt. that was mentioned in a previous comment that has been seen hanging out at 7-11 throughout his shift. You think he felt the pinch of a pay reduction? I'll take his job! Calm down, I know they received 5% of the reduction back...

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

Mavis, I am not being critical of the Sheriff's dept. I think it is a good thing that a complete inventory found only an empty sample bag and a missing few hundred dollars. Do a quick search and you'll find dozens of police depts losing far more evidence than that. Thus, this sort of problems found by RSCO during a complete inventory does not show the previous handling of evidence was badly broken. I did not criticize them for conducting a full inventory.

Nor have I said that Sheriff Wiggins is doing a bad job. I said it is possible that he is doing a fine job.

Seems to me that I am defending the job performance of a RSCO employee. And since Wiggins has made mistakes in his past command of ACET, it is hardly reasonable to suggest that these sort of mistakes is a termination offense.

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Cooke 3 years, 6 months ago

I think Mavis' point, Scott, was that in this week alone you have touted yourself as an expert in the following catagories: Sheriff's office policy Sheriff's office budget Steamboat School District Soroco School District CSAPS Boettcher Scholarships Hayden Planning Codes I'm sure I am missing something because I see your name in the comments and tend to tune them out. Someone else may want to fill in the blanks.

I see that the Pilot just put up an article about Thurston completing the Iditerod. Perhaps you can wow us all with your inside knowledge of dogsledding in Alaska.

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chillppl 3 years, 6 months ago

Cooke, your comment cracked me up...add all things South Routt to the list of Wedel's expertise.! I am just very glad to see accountability from the SO. Literally and figuratively "cleaning house", love it!

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ftpheide 3 years, 6 months ago

Scott is just lonely. He will debate any subject if he can be included. His comment "seems to me that I am defending the job preformance of a RSCO ( this should be RCSO) employee. " shows he has no idea why he is commenting.

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freerider 3 years, 6 months ago

    The jury is out on Wiggins , it's only been two months , maybe he will do a good job or maybe it will be ACET all over again with very questionable tactics at best. There is a pretty good chance that he broke more laws than Wall when he was in charge of that pile of meadow muffins .

It was a pretty tight race for sheriff , the lessor of two evils won. I wish Bosick had won

Maybe we should start to drag up all of ACET old files and pile through them and put them in the Pilot for review to do a fair comparison if people insist on trash talking Wall's performance ....then it only seems right to do the same to Wiggins

Just cuz Wiggins won this doesn't make him a good Sheriff ..Respect is something that is earned and not won at the voting booth

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greenwash 3 years, 6 months ago

Come on seriously now ... Have you ever met a smart cop?

I dont think so.

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sodacreekpizza 3 years, 6 months ago

@ Greenwash: that is an unworthy comment. And the answer for my part is yes, I have met intelligent police officers (and Gary Wall is one of them).

Furthermore, all individuals who work in public office deserve our thanks for thier service. They do difficult and important work with the eyes of everyone looking over thier shoulder at all times. How many of us would enjoy every action and every decision we make in our working lives being second guessed and criticized in the public eye.

I consider Gary a friend and I think he did a fine job in office bringing much needed changes to the department. Similarly, Garret is clearly a hard working man who deserves the benefit of the doubt as he starts out in his new position. I have met him several times and trust that he will do the best job he can as he sees it needs to be done.

Change is good.

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1999 3 years, 6 months ago

i've met Gary, Wiggens and Ray and all are fine men.

seemed pretty smart to me.

I wouldn't want to tangle (but maybe I'd tango) with Birch

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1999 3 years, 6 months ago

oh and I appreciate Scotts addition to this forum.

he seems well versed on many subjects. thats not a bad thing, you know.

I've never ONCE seen him state that he is the authority on anything.

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Whitney Isabel 3 years, 6 months ago

1999 - I agree with you regarding Scott Wedel. I don't know him personally and I haven't read every single post of his, but he seems well versed and able to form educated opinions on the subjects he does post on. Whether I agree with him or not is beside the point.

I also doubt my approval matters to him but...Scott, if you're reading...Keep 'em coming. I enjoy forum discussions on local matters (even though I've unfortunately moved away) because they do just that...foster community discussion.

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Freya Green 3 years, 6 months ago

@ ftpheide There has not been an inventory of the evidence room in close to 10 years before this one. At my work its done every month. Blaming the "evidence tech" is kind of silly considering she has only been there 3 years. Other staff members including the 5 previous evidence techs ALL had access to that room. And yes she is still there. Do you know her personally since you know its a her? Do you know that she has over 25 law enforcement training certificates that SHE paid for herself to better serve the RCSO and YOU? And if you consider 400$ a large sum of money. . . have you gone grocery shopping lately!?! Funny how your remarks are more about her then the article itself. @ Clare The "evidence tech" did get the 10% paycut, but did your digging show you that they had combined 2 posistions into 1. Thus earning her the title of Special Deputy and her raise. Yes, she does carry a badge and a gun. She is responsible for keeping the 10 Sex Offenders in Routt county in line. If I had to deal with those people I know I would want more then a pen or computer mouse at my side. And FYI that too, the gun, the ammo, and the classes to carry the gun, she paid for NOT RCSO or the taxpayers.

It seems to me you two are on a witch hunt. You sit behind your screen name and throw stones at someone you know nothing about. The article was actually about they have found some problems and they are changing policy to address that. Good for them. But how can we sit here and criticize someone for doing their job. If the policy is flawed, change it. That doesnt say in any way she wasnt doing her job, it says she was following policy as it was at the time.

To said "Evidence Tech/Special Deputy" We the general public have no clue what you do. Please excuse those that hide in their cubicles and judge you based on their favorite episodes of CSI. Im sure they feel that makes them QUALIFIED law enforcement and evidence experts. Keep your broom handy because evidently the witch hunts are alive and well in Steamboat.

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ftpheide 3 years, 6 months ago

Freya, Whenever evidence (money and drugs) is missing and only one person has access to the evidence room, they are accountable. Where in the article does it state the evidence room hadn't been inventoried for ten years? Yes, I consider $400.00 a large sum of money. No money should be missing! What difference does it make how many law enforcement certificates she has? Evidence Tech isn't a full time position. They combined two part time positions to give her full time employment, wonderful. You don't make alot of sense and you certainly into drama!

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anne_oakley 3 years, 6 months ago

First off I very seldom respond to public comment drivel. But in this instance I take it personally. It appears the good in this article is being overlooked. You all have a newly elected Sheriff, give him a chance. To go after the evidence tech/ Special Deputy with such a vengence would lead this Detective 101 to believe you have your own agenda. FACT not opinion is the law. Fact I have met most of the men and women at RCSO. Opinion is you all can be proud of those who have chosen to serve your community. Fact: Everyone employed in any law enforcement agency goes through a very long back ground check. Fact: The evidence tech is not there 24/7 other people including the former Sheriff had access to the evidence. Fact: This certain Special Deputy has been shooting a gun since she was 7 years old. Is your problem with her carrying a gun because she is a women? Fact: Both her parents were in law enforcement, her great grandfather was a Sheriff her great uncle was a police chief. Fact: Said Deputy was going to college to be a teacher and has worked as a teacher ( Another profession were they did back ground checks.) I know some people we should never confuse with fact because they have an opinion. As for the deputy going to 7-11 or where ever to "hang-out" maybe he is being a positive influence on someone there you never know unless you ask. Again that would take getting facts. Ms. Barr how many mothers have you held as they screamed their heart out because their only child was killed because a group of boys was bored. How many times have you gone to an emergency room to take pictures of a 4 day old baby boy because his mother was high on crack and took a cigarette to his gentials. No, these aren't the deputy in questions stories but mine. In my day and age we took our own evidence logged it sorted it and kept it. Being in law enforcement is one of the lowest paying and often thankless jobs you can do. You have bleeding heart judges, lazy DA's and the always present public that knows your job better than you do. I do think Steamboat is a great vacation spot, the people there are great. I read the pilot to keep up with my grandson who wrestles.Oh and by the way another Fact: That Special Deputy is special she is as beautiful inside as she is out she is our daughter. Mr & Mrs RJ Henderson

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ftpheide 3 years, 6 months ago

anne_oakley, I loved your comment. Thank you for taking the time to compose it. It's a classic. What are your thoughts on attorneys?

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