COLORADO SHERIFFS: Sentinel way off track in attacking sheriffs for following and upholding the law

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The May 23 Aurora Sentinel editorial demonstrated a serious disregard for the responsibilities and professionalism of 55 of Colorado’s elected sheriffs who are engaged in a lawsuit with the state over the recently passed gun control bills.

The editorial board is entitled to disagree with the sheriffs, but it is not entitled to its own definition of the designated responsibilities within the separation of powers, nor to blatantly misrepresent sheriffs as not being professional law enforcement officers.

It seems the editorial board’s opinion is that we should agree with and blindly enforce every piece of new legislation without challenge.  Otherwise, we are guilty of “disregarding the separation of powers and taking on the power of the legislature and the courts.” It is precisely our respect for the separation of powers and the Constitution that we are compelled to move forward with a lawsuit in an effort to get a determination of constitutionality from the courts.

As elected sheriffs and the chief law enforcement officers of our respective counties, we have an obligation to challenge potentially unconstitutional laws on behalf of the citizens of the state of Colorado. The very first part of our oath of office is to support the Constitution, and it is our mission to preserve the foundation upon which this republic is built.

Weld County, Colo., Sheriff John Cooke, left, with El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, center right, and other sheriffs standing behind him, speaks during a news conference at which he announced that 54 Colorado sheriffs are filing a federal civil lawsuit against two gun control bills passed by the Colorado Legislature, in Denver, Friday, May 17 2013. Among other claims, the group of sheriffs and others joining the suit argue that the laws violate the 2nd and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Weld County, Colo., Sheriff John Cooke, left, with El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, center right, and other sheriffs standing behind him, speaks during a news conference at which he announced that 54 Colorado sheriffs are filing a federal civil lawsuit against two gun control bills passed by the Colorado Legislature, in Denver, Friday, May 17 2013. Among other claims, the group of sheriffs and others joining the suit argue that the laws violate the 2nd and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

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Certainly, this lawsuit is not a popularity contest. It’s not about laws we “like” or dislike. Some of us don’t like the established speed limits, but those speed limits don’t violate the constitution, nor are they unenforceable. We believe these gun control bills are potentially unconstitutional and in many cases, unenforceable.

We have a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of our counties. They elect us to establish priorities and use resources wisely. The Sheriffs’ priorities and resources are focused on apprehending murders, rapists, child molesters, drug dealers, burglars – the evil element in our society – not the law-abiding citizens whom these bills will impact most.

These bills do little to make Colorado a safer place to live, work, play, and raise a family.  Instead, they will have the opposite effect because they greatly restrict the right of decent, law-abiding citizens to defend themselves, their families, and their homes.

The editorial makes the inaccurate assertion that “what the public knows is that these sheriffs are often not trained cops, but just state residents without felony records who never even had to take any law enforcement training at all…” Actually, they are the elected Sheriffs of Colorado, professional law enforcement executives entrusted with public safety responsibilities.  It’s unfortunate that the board has made an assertion intended to demean those with whom they disagree.

Take time to review the resumes of the 55 elected Sheriffs who signed on to the lawsuit. If the board had done the math, it would have found these Sheriffs have an accumulation of more than 1,000 years of combined law enforcement experience, including Arapahoe County’s Grayson Robinson, Adams County’s Doug Darr, and Dave Stong of Alamosa, all of whom have more than 40 years of professional law enforcement experience each. Most of the Sheriffs have between 20 and 40 years experience, are college-educated, and are graduates of the FBI National Academy and/or the National Sheriffs’ Institute.

The editorial is an example of the conflict and divide that separates us both locally and across the country.  It seems they believe that we should just trust that our legislature got it exactly right and assume that the new statutes are on target.  They ignore the fact that under our Constitution, the Judicial Branch is the authority to determine the constitutionality of issues of law. We can’t get a determination until the issue gets before the courts and the lawsuit is the vehicle to get that done.  If that never happens we will continue to be divided, and the conflict will continue for years to come.

It bothers the sheriffs that the editorial seems to have the opinion that we have no interest in effectively dealing with gun violence in this country and nation.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We simply want new laws to be reasonably enforceable and to comply with constitutional standards.  We want to see an effort to effectively deal with people who have serious mental health issues, chronic sobriety issues, and those with a history of violent behavior.  We are not likely to have much success in dealing with issues of gun violence until we make a legitimate effort to keep guns out of the hands of people with those problems.

Honestly, we wish this lawsuit wasn’t necessary, but, we took an oath to defend the Constitution and we take that very seriously.

Doug Darr

Adams County Sheriff

On behalf of the 55 Sheriffs who are plaintiffs in Cooke et al v. Hickenlooper