Larimer County Sheriff responds to town investigation
At last Tuesday’s Berthoud Board of Trustees meeting, Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith and Captain Joe Shellhammer addressed questions from the board regarding the report of the internal investigation the board requested of the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) related to the LCSO’s actions during last summer’s Back the Blue and Black Lives Matter rallies, held on July 26 and Aug. 1, respectively, at Fickle Park in Berthoud.
As reported by the Surveyor, the pair faced pointed questions from the board, most notably from Mayor Pro Tem Maureen Dower and Trustee Jeff Hindman. Smith and Shellhammer also received praise for their work, not just related to the actions at the two summer rallies, but in their overall service to the town from other members of the board including Mayor Will Karspeck and Trustee May Soricelli.
After much discussion, the board decided to contract with the Arizona-based Edwards and Amato law firm to conduct a further review of the LCSO and, working in conjunction with Town Administrator Chris Kirk and his staff, Berthoud patrol sergeant Jim Anderson and LCSO leadership, provide feedback for potential ordinances the town may adopt at later date. Kirk was contacted to provide further details on the scope of the project but did not respond to the Surveyor by Wednesday morning’s deadline.
In a lengthy and wide-ranging discussion with the Surveyor on Tuesday morning, Smith provided further clarification for the LCSO’s actions as well as what he felt was unfair and unprofessional treatment from Hindman during last Tuesday’s meeting.
Smith reiterated that he believes the representatives of the LCSO which policed the two rallies – which included bicycle-mounted deputies as well as horseback mounted peace officers from the LCSO’s volunteer posse contingent, a group which is reserve certified through the State of Colorado and receive additional training from the LCSO in crowd control and peace-keeping measures – discharged their duties in a highly effective and professional manner.
“As we’ve shared to the board repeatedly, our main goal, number one, was safety for everyone there and, secondly, was just assuring the individuals there, anybody, no matter what their opinion, had their opportunity to be heard and third was to really make sure protecting property,” Smith said. “By all those measures we saw success.”
More than six months after the two rallies were held, Smith said that the LCSO has not received any official reports of assaults, property damage or other criminal matters from anyone who attended either rally.
“We have no record of anybody coming afterwards,” Smith said. “I have no record of anyone filing a complaint or reports of substantiated damage.” The Sheriff did say that during the rallies, some LCSO representatives did receive some verbal complaints from some attendees who were instructed by deputies and/or posse members to contact the LCSO to file official reports which could prompt an investigation.
Smith did make a point of saying the behavior of a small number of rally participants, from different sides, did engage in behavior that was below the community standard saying, “To the degree that I learned about some of the language that was used, I was extremely disappointed; that furthers nothing, it’s inappropriate.”
Smith further stated that, disappointing as some behavior may have been, such coarse and obscene language is not cause for forceful action to be taken, in both the interest of keeping the peace and protecting First Amendment rights of all citizens.
Smith also stated that, according to his findings, the majority of the bad behavior came from, “the outside influences … those out of towners that showed up that caused issues.” Furthermore, the Sheriff said the Berthoud rallies did not see anything bordering on the chaos and mayhem seen at similar rallies in neighboring communities including Denver, Aurora, Fort Collins and Ault, where physical violence and rampant property damage occurred. Smith commended the actions of Anderson, the Berthoud squad and volunteer posse for their work.
The LCSO presented their findings to the board within the 90 days as requested on Sept. 22 and Smith said that, when doing so, he had asked if anyone had any questions about the information contained in the nearly 20-page report that needed further clarification that he would happy to answer them prior to last Tuesday’s meeting.
“We heard almost nothing, no questions, no inquires, no points of concern so, that night, the way things unfolded, I think most people were able to tell that Jeff Hindman’s agenda was first and foremost there,” Smith said. “I thought was disappointing that rather than have an objective discussion, Jeff was lying in wait, he was waiting to cross-examine us and it did a great disservice.”
Smith continued, “I looked at this mostly what’s become a personal agenda for Jeff Hindman, unfortunately, he has made this an issue since we’ve had any involvement with the town going back seven years. Any time I have appeared before the town board, with a variety of trustees and mayors over the years, I have never gone down there that I didn’t find Jeff Hindman to be adversarial and frankly just come across as angry.”
At last Tuesday’s meeting, Hindman questioned Smith and Shellhammer on a variety of matters pertaining to the report, which he called “incomplete and lacking,” and expressed displeasure he was not contacted by the LCSO during the course of the office’s internal investigation. Hindman also stated that one of the members of the volunteer posse had “an extreme right-wing Facebook” post and found it troubling someone of such a persuasion would be allowed to serve the LCSO.
Smith said he had investigated the allegation of the posse member, having his internal affairs professional standards sergeant check and double check but nothing of the sort was discovered. Smith said that while he was disappointed in the behavior of trustees, including Hindman, he does not believe it is representative of the overall sentiments by the Berthoud community of the LCSO. “Is it frustrating to deal with, sure it is, but I’m not going to let Jeff Hindman and his personal agenda conflict with the obligation we have signed up for to serve the community,” Smith said.
Finally, Smith stated that he welcomes the report from the Amato law firm and looks forward to working with Berthoud town staff to move forward. “It’s up to town boards to have local ordinances and we appreciate that. In doing these contracts, one of my expectations in the realm of what the Sheriff’s Office does is we’re reflecting the community priorities; we work to prioritize the issues the town feels are important.”
The Surveyor will continue to follow this story as developments warrant.
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