Council reassured about ACET
CBI agent: Task force has issues, needs work
January 13, 2010
After lengthy presentations by Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent Curt Williams and Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta, Craig City Council members said they feel more comfortable with the operations of the All Crimes Enforcement Team drug task force and its commander, Garrett Wiggins.
"The problems they had, once they came to light, they got right together and they implemented everything (Williams) suggested," Mayor Don Jones said. ACET "is a needed organization. We can't live without it."
Williams conducted an independent investigation of the agency late last year at the request of the Craig Police Department and Moffat County Sheriff's Office.
His review partially was prompted by the City Council's concerns about two former Craig Police officers assigned to the task force who were brought up on criminal charges.
Former Detective Ken Johnson faces three felony charges in a pending jury trial scheduled for May 24 in Moffat County District Court. Prosecutors allege he broke the law while in a sexual relationship with a local woman convicted of drug use and distribution.
Former officer Bob Brabo, who was assigned to replace Johnson on the task force, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft in December on a charge alleging he stole $500 in ACET drug buy money.
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During a workshop with the City Council and area law enforcement and elected officials Tuesday night, Williams said neither case is very unique.
"This happens in every drug unit I've been assigned to," the CBI agent said. "I've had narcotics officers get too close to informants, had relationships with informants. I've had them steal money."
Williams added that ACET seems to have done a good job uncovering drug distribution operations in its three-year tenure.
"These guys have done some major deals," he said. "I'm not talking Routt, Moffat County. For the state of Colorado, they've taken on some major bad guys."
Williams went on to lay out his recommendations for the task force, many of which revolved around requiring more oversight by the ACET board, made up of high-ranking regional law enforcement officials and the 14th Judicial District Attorney.
"You really need that board to buy in, have responsibility and be the umbilical cord to the task force commander," Williams said. "That's a lonely position, and the relationship between the commander and the board needs to be very strong."
He also said ACET did not properly manage the cash it released to officers for drug buys or conduct sufficient oversight of confidential informants.
A written action plan released by the ACET board states that the agency will adopt almost all of Williams' suggestions, including the discontinuance of a practice allowing officers to have $500 cash on hand at all times.
Councilor Jennifer Riley, who has been among the most critical of ACET, said she'll feel better about the agency if the ACET board takes a larger amount of responsibility and begins to work better with Wiggins.
Riley said she has had doubts that Wiggins was the right person to lead ACET, and she cautioned the law enforcement officials present Tuesday that now is the time to fix what was wrong with the task force.
"We can't afford to have another situation like we had with the two officers," Riley said. "We can't survive this a second time."
Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger, who also attended Tuesday's meeting in Craig, said he still has concerns about oversight, regardless of how many law enforcement personnel are involved.
"In my community, there are concerns about set-ups and entrapment," he said. "I'm struggling a little bit with the concept of all you guys being the executive board without any outside eyes."
Steamboat Springs Police Chief J.D. Hays and Deputy District Attorney Jeremy Snow said there is nothing to suggest ACET or its agents have violated people's rights in their investigations.
"In the three years I've been working here in Moffat County, not a single shred of evidence in the 100 cases from ACET has been suppressed," Snow said. "And (defense attorneys) file a motion every time."
Two residents in the audience then spoke out.
A man who would not give his name said his legal, homemade wine operation was raided three times for being a suspected methamphetamine lab and that his reputation was ruined.
Wiggins responded ACET did not investigate the man's house. It assisted the Routt County Sheriff's Office one time, and everything else was done by Routt County.
Another resident, Chris Brown, said there should be a grand jury investigation of what he described as local law enforcement's various abuses of power.
"All you officers around here, you know exactly what happened in my case, and you chose to cover it up," Brown said.
He later added, "There has been an extreme lack of integrity, and it goes to the top of the Craig Police Department."
Snow responded that he was familiar with Brown's case.
He said he remembered that Brown filed a motion to suppress evidence in his case, and then fled the county after he was convicted.
Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org.