EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) - The El Paso County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to establish a committee that will decide whether the county covers a portion of legal fees for officers involved in "use of force" cases.
This comes after Governor Jared Polis signed SB-217 into law, which indicates that the employer of a local law enforcement officer -- in this case, the county's Sheriff -- can determine whether the deputy or officer is acting in good faith in performing their duties in a use of force incident. If they are determined to not have acted in good faith, the local law enforcement officer is liable to $25,000 in a case, or 5% of the judgement -- whichever is less.
County Attorney Diana May and El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder proposed a board made of one member from the Sheriff's Office, the County Attorney's Office, the Board of Commissioners, the County Administration Office, and the Human Resources and Risk Management Office. That board will make the final decision whether the law enforcement officer would be indemnified, and therefore fully covered by the county for legal defense and fees.
"We feel this is the best way to make sure an independent and objective decision is made on a very important issue," explained County Attorney Diana May.
Sheriff Elder also said the committee builds a safety net for good deputies if he or any future sheriff is misled by public opinion.
"I can tell you that the moral in law enforcement today is in the toilet," he said. "I want to make sure when I’m finished being the sheriff in 2023, that whoever takes my seat has the same understanding that we have today by trying to make a careful, considerate direction for how we move forward.”
Now that the committee has officially been created, it's tasked with bringing rules for evaluating "use of force" claims to the Board of Commissioners for approval.
Many of the County Commissioners criticized Governor Polis and the State Legislature for passing the bill that, in this area, only includes local law enforcement, and excludes state law enforcement because of "high risk of either monetary damage, risk or liability."