Routt County paying $8,500 to settle discrimination claim from former deputy

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— The Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously voted to settle a discrimination claim for $8,500 that involved a former female Routt County Sheriff’s Office deputy.

The name of the person who made the claim is redacted in the settlement agreement, but several documents cited in the agreement are regarding a claim from Tommy Belz, who said she was unlawfully terminated in August 2010.

Routt County Attorney John Merrill said Tuesday that the allegation did not involve current Sheriff Garrett Wiggins. Gary Wall was sheriff when Belz was terminated.

In early 2011, Belz and her attorney, Laura Schwartz, filed documents with Routt County stating their intent to sue.

The settlement agreement calls for Schwartz’s law firm to receive a check for $3,400. The agreement states that two other checks are to be issued, but the recipients' names are redacted. The amounts are for $4,250 and $850.

In the documents stating her intent to sue, Belz claimed she was fired because of an incident involving a male Steamboat Springs Police Department officer who Belz thought had been drinking and driving.

Belz said that in July 2010, she saw the off-duty officer drinking downtown, and she later talked to him and was upset by how much he had been drinking.

Belz said that the next morning, she learned the officer had been pulled over by a deputy for a “possible DUI stop,” but her co-worker had let the officer go.

When Belz confronted her co-worker, she said the deputy said he pulled over the officer for speeding. Belz said she told the deputy she had spoken with the officer, and the officer told her that being pulled over scared him quite a bit, to the point where the officer was considering going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Belz said an internal investigation was launched. She said her co-worker was cleared of any wrongdoing, but she was accused of lying and fired a couple of weeks later by Dave Bustos, the undersheriff at the time. Belz said she was handed a termination letter by Bustos, and the letter stated she had been untruthful and had acted inappropriately while on duty.

“I asked him if it was in the best interest of the Sheriff’s Office if one of our deputies allows an intoxicated person to drive down the road,” Belz wrote in the paperwork stating her intent to sue. “I discussed with him my concern regarding the liability of the (Sheriff’s Office had the officer) been involved in a crash and injured or killed someone.”

Belz said that after being fired, her position was filled by a younger man.

In addition to being unlawfully terminated, Belz thought she was discriminated against because of her gender and age.

Belz and her attorney did not respond to a request for comment. Belz currently is employed as a police officer with the town of Minturn.

Steamboat Police Chief Joel Rae on Tuesday said it was not until three days after the incident that his department learned about the drunken driving accusations against the officer. Rae said a deputy from the Sheriff’s Office texted information about the incident to a sergeant at the police department.

Rae said they immediately launched an internal affairs investigation, and the officer resigned about three weeks later.

“We cannot comment on the results of that investigation as it is a personnel matter,” Rae wrote in an email.

Merrill described the $8,500 paid out to settle the case as a nuisance-value settlement, or a nominal amount paid to get rid of a claim and to avoid the much larger cost of defending it.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

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