Jeffco commissioners sign up to support deputies in lawsuit

Sheriff pushed for letter signing following passage of new state law

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 8/3/20

In a letter to Jefferson County Sheriff's Office staff, the Jeffco commissioners expressed their support for Sheriff's Office staff and pledged to provide a defense and indemnification (coverage of …

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Jeffco commissioners sign up to support deputies in lawsuit

Sheriff pushed for letter signing following passage of new state law

Posted

In a letter to Jefferson County Sheriff's Office staff, the Jeffco commissioners expressed their support for Sheriff's Office staff and pledged to provide a defense and indemnification (coverage of potential losses) for lawsuits brought against officers, except in situations where officers are criminally convicted for the conduct from which the claim arose. However, they also called for work to be done to make Jeffco an “inclusive, vibrant community where everyone feels welcomed, safe and valued.”

The letter, dated July 29, referenced Senate Bill 217, the Colorado policy accountability law passed earlier this summer. S.B. 217 allows people who allege civil rights violations against law enforcement to sue officers in their individual capacities, with officers determined to not have acted in good faith or with a reasonable belief that what they did was legal able to be held personally liable for 5% of a judgment or up to $25,000.

“We stand behind JCSO employees who act in good faith; consistent with Senate Bill 217, we will provide a defense and indemnification for lawsuits brought against the Sheriff and JCSO employees,” the letter reads. “In the rare case where a deputy is criminally convicted for the conduct from which the claims arise, the Board cannot indemnify or defend such conduct.”

The letter also expressed support for what it described as Sheriff Jeff Shrader's ongoing commitment to instilling a culture within the JCSO that is free of racial-bias and emphasizes training on anti-bias policing, de-escalation strategies and mental health awareness. It went on to state:

“These efforts and others underscore our collective desire for continuous improvement to eliminate gaps in policies that contribute to racism and discrimination of all kinds. JCSO's national accreditation serves as the hallmark of a professional and accountable agency, including high standards for the care and custody of inmates. Despite these important efforts, we also know there is much more work to do, including improving diversity in hiring and leadership not only in JCSO but county-wide.”

While giving his quarterly update to the commissioners on July 28, Shrader asked the commissioners to sign such a letter reinforcing the county's commitment to indemnifying employees within the boundaries of the new law.

“I was hoping that (document) would've been already signed and resolved that would indicate the county's position for indemnification for the employees in the sheriff's office consistent with that law that was passed but also reiterating the support and the value that the leaders in Jefferson County have for the officers that are on the front line,” said Shrader.

No defunding Sheriff's Office

During the meeting, commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper said that the letter Shrader had originally presented to the commissioners contained language that was similar to a letter that had been sent to the sheriff's office in Weld County, and that the commissioners wanted to lend their own voice to it.

Commissioner Casey Tighe also said the commissioners had been taking their time with the letter because they wanted to discuss the ramifications of S.B. 217 with the county attorney and make sure they were signing a letter that was respectful of both those protesting police injustice and brutality and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, which he said is doing “fine work.”

“It's something we are being thoughtful on because we want to balance those things,” Tighe said.

Shrader responded that there was nothing in the letter that was “inconsistent with the law.”

“That law is not to the community, that letter is to the men and women of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office,” said Shrader. “I know the community is watching but that letter is compliant with the law and that is what the legislature came up with.”

During the meeting, Commissioner Libby Szabo said she wanted to sign the letter and hoped it would be signed soon. The commissioners planned to meet later that day to finalize their discussion of the letter. During the discussion, both Tighe and Dahlkemper expressed that they are not interested in defunding the Sheriff's office in Jeffco, although they acknowledged the county continues to deal with budget difficulties that will impact the budget of the sheriff's office.

“I think all three of us are committed to not defunding the police because that is a priority for Jefferson County in terms of keeping everyone safe and making sure everyone feels welcome in Jefferson County, no question about that,” Dahlkemper said. “And we'll always continue to look at how can we do this work better so that we are not just talking in words but we are actually following through on our actions.”

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