Lawmakers eye sheriffs’ firing power
May 6, 2005
Proposed legislation to limit a sheriff’s ability to terminate deputies at will is causing a rumble among the states’ law enforcement agencies as it projects a more stringent procedure for sheriffs to fire employees.
“I oppose it,” said Moffat County Sheriff Buddy Grinstead. “It just further erodes the office of sheriff. In law enforcement, the public wants us to respond, but this erodes our authority.”
Senate Bill 234 needs a nod from the House of Representatives before it heads for the governor’s approval.
But George Epp, executive director of County Sheriffs of Colorado, said if the bill gets to that point, the group would ask the governor to veto it.
“What it would mean would be the process of firing anyone would take a number of steps,” Epp said. “People complain about people not doing their jobs but those people just stay. (The current law) really gives the sheriff a powerful tool so it doesn’t happen in the sheriff’s department.”
According to Colorado law, a sheriff can fire an employee at will by detouring a legal process reserved for other agencies. That is, an employee must be dismissed only on valid grounds –ot on the whims of an employer.
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But, Grinstead said, stipulations on a sheriff’s right to terminate can interfere with the public pressure for the agency to act quickly in certain situations. Grinstead gave the example of a detention deputy who was fired for performing sexual acts with an inmate at the Moffat County Jail.
But, former Moffat County Sheriff Jeff Corriveau said that law always bothered him during his 12-year tenure, before Grinstead’s election. He said he didn’t terminate any employees without giving them the chance to counter the accusations or go through a legal process.
Corriveau said the law’s current ramifications might have the potential to make deputies fearful for their positions, especially as a new sheriff may take the reins every four years.
“I was opposed to firing at will anyway,” he said. “I thought if a person gets fired, (management) should have a reason, and the person should be able to defend themselves. If (the bill) passes, they’ll learn to live with it.”
Although Epp said he “strongly opposes” the proposed bill, he added that if it passed, the bill has the potential to cause public outrage. That may come if a deputy is accused of inappropriate behavior, but he’s allowed to stay in the ranks while grounds for termination are being investigated.
“It makes the personnel process in the Sheriff’s Office similar to the Denver police or Aurora police when the community wants officers fired but more litigation is required,” Epp said.