AURORA | The ongoing feud between Adams County Sheriff Doug Darr and cities including Aurora over the jail’s limit on inmates from municipal courts could result in a lawsuit.
Aurora City Attorney Charlie Richardson said he met last week with city attorneys from other municipalities in Adams County to discuss possible legal action to stop the jail from refusing inmates from municipal court rooms.
The lawyers are considering various routes, Richardson said, including a possible civil lawsuit against the county.
But the problem for the cities is that state law makes elected county sheriffs largely free to make their own decisions, with laws written back in the time of “six shooters” when county sheriffs were the top lawman and sprawling cities were never considered.
“You have urbanization that was never contemplated when the office of sheriff was established,” Richardson said. “So it is a unique situation where you have a high-density city depending upon a sheriff to accommodate our prisoners.”
Richardson said he plans to file an open records request with the county to get details about just who the jail is refusing from municipal courts, and what other minor offenders the jail accepts from county and district courts.
Richardson said if the sheriff’s decision is solely a question of safety, then it doesn’t make sense for only municipal inmates to be turned away while other minor offenders are still housed in the jail.
Darr has said repeatedly that municipal inmates are the lowest-level offenders, and thus the least-dangerous among his inmates. So it makes sense to turn those inmates away as opposed to other, more-dangerous offenders.
While Aurora has only about 45,000 people living on the Adams County side of East Colfax Avenue — meaning it has fewer Adams County residents that Westminister or Thornton — Aurora has largely been at the forefront of the jail spat.
That’s in part because Aurora’s municipal court has long-been a tougher place for defendants than other municipal courts around the state, regularly doling out hefty jail sentences for defendants who might get away with probation or a fine in other cities.
Also, Aurora remains the only city in the county that has had an inmate turned away from the jail.
The county’s inmate limit has been controversial since it took effect in early 2012 and in April this year, county commissioners formally rescinded it. But Darr said it would be at least 18 months before he was able to hire and train enough jailers to handle more inmates.
The cap means the jail will only house 30 inmates a day from municipal courts around the county, which tend to handle lower-level crimes. Before the cap, the jail housed about 120 municipal offenders each day.
Since the cap began, Aurora has used more than 1,100 “bed days” at the Denver jail at a cost of more than $60,000.
The Adams County jail still houses hundreds of inmates arrested in Aurora as long as they are prosecuted in county or district court.
The fight flared up May 20 when the jail refused to take a convicted car thief sentenced to jail by the Aurora Municipal Court. After that, several local police chiefs, including Aurora police Chief Dan Oates, held a press conference to call attention to the refusal.
Since then, the sheriff and city leaders have traded barbs, with Darr accusing local courts of sentencing inmates for petty crimes like loitering, and city leaders accusing Darr of putting public safety at risk by refusing to take dangerous criminals.
For Aurora, the municipal inmate cap has meant only about four beds for municipal inmates, down from about 20 each day. But the cap hasn’t been firm and the cities regularly exceed the number of beds allotted. Jail officials have regularly warned city officials that they were exceeding the cap, but last month marked the first time they barred an inmate from the jail.