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El Paso County establishing board to determine financial liability in use of force incidents

El Paso County Sheriff's Office

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."

Colorado Springs / Crime / El Paso County Crime / News

Julia Donovan

Julia is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Julia here.

Comments

17 Comments

  1. Don’t give an officer an excuse to use force and its all good. Problem solved.

  2. So I am glad to hear there will be a panel, but now lets dissect this further because this still has no checks and balances. A County employee (a Sheriff’s Deputy) will be placed in a board of review if a use of force situation occurs. No problems so far, however…
    That panel will consist of one member from the Sheriff’s Office (County employee put in place to indemnify their agency and the county from the employee’s actions),
    the County Attorney’s Office(a County attorney put in place to indemnify themselves and the county from the county employee’s actions),
    the Board of Commissioners (County government elected officials put in place to indemnify themselves and the county from the county employee’s actions),
    the County Administration Office (County government non-elected officials put in place to indemnify themselves and the county from the county employee’s actions),
    and the Human Resources (County government non-elected officials put in place to indemnify themselves and the county from the county employee’s actions),
    and Risk Management Office. (County government non-elected officials put in place to indemnify themselves and the county from the county employee’s actions)
    So in essence, The County will provide the minimally adequate level of training to be in the capacity of a sheriff’s deputy, will not provide enough personnel to handle the call volume, but will now also protect the upper echelon of the sheriff’s office as well as the other responsible county officials and the county itself and place the sole weight upon the backs of the officer, regardless of the findings, because, let’s be honest, even when this panel would find that the negligence lay above this single deputy, no one would know because this panel would place fault on the Deputy, thus not fixing the problem that is inherit in this system. They call this creating a patsy. Also how does this panel deal with an officer’s “Garrity Rights”? Guess that doesn’t matter to the upper echelon and the elected officials.
    I ask everyone this, if you genuinely wanted to work in law enforcement, it clearly wasn’t for the pay. It, more often than not, was because you wanted to make a difference in your community and make it a safer place. You willingly put yourself in harms way by putting on a bullet-proof vest and a gun every shift, for a job that pays horribly, places you in a extremely high risk category of serious bodily injury or death, your training is subpar, and now you are supposed to trust your agency won’t abandon you to the fate of the call for service you responded to if a use of force occurs, just so the county can place fault and blame on you, while indemnifying themselves by showing they separated themselves from your actions.
    All the while, the county’s upper echelon along with the counties government elected and non-elected officials get to hold up the shield and pass blame upon the officer that is understaffed, overworked, underpaid, undertrained, and now potentially civilly liable.
    Good luck El Paso County, make sure to put that on your recruitment poster for new deputies.

    1. If we truly want to fix this problem, it must be handled by a completely separate and independent board of officials, that does have law enforcement or military experience (in an urban environment) and, most importantly, are not receiving a “quid pro quo” simply by managing their own investigation like this system El Paso County just put in place. It would be best for the community as well as the officers, and let’s be honest, it would be best for the upper echelon as well. The good ol’ boys system has got to be what is addressed, and resolved, not passing the buck.
      I want to be clear, I am not saying that officers and deputies should not be held accountable for their actions. What I am saying is given the full scope of what their actions were in that split decision to make the best possible choice. Sometimes officers / deputies make the wrong decision, but that agency is also responsible more often than not, and that will not be addressed by a panel of County officials put in place to protect themselves and the county.
      Moreover, this policy actually conceals and places full blame on that 1 officer without looking at the complete extenuating circumstances of the agencies deficiencies.

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