Many chiefs tight-lipped on relationship with DA
Following a public spat between the Garfield County sheriff and 9th Judicial District attorney, many department heads of the judicial district’s law enforcement agencies declined to comment on their relationship with the DA.
Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson said he was disappointed to see the initial story in the Post Independent. The chief said he didn’t think two agency heads should get into their differences of opinion in the media about the complicated operations of the criminal justice system. Overlapping agencies frequently have antagonistic relationships; it’s the nature of the system, he said.
Parachute Police Chief Cary Parmenter declined to comment, saying he didn’t want to make his office’s job any harder. Silt Police Chief Levy Burris also chose not to weigh in.
Rifle Police Chief John Dyer, however, echoed many of Sheriff Lou Vallario’s criticisms of DA Sherry Caloia.
Like the sheriff, Dyer said he, too, has been frustrated by a lack of communication from the DA’s office. In many instances the DA’s office has dismissed cases, and his office finds out from someone else, said Dyer.
“If a case is being dismissed, we want to know why it’s being dismissed,” he said. “If it’s because of something we’re doing wrong, I’d love to know so we can fix it. We want to build the strongest cases possible.”
In the 9th Judicial District, law enforcement agencies must get their arrest and search warrants approved by the DA, which has created the opportunity for the DA to filter cases based on a prosecutor’s standard of evidence before an arrest is even made, said Dyer.
Caloia told the PI that she pushes law enforcement for strong evidence so her office has a better chance of winning a conviction.
Vallario has said the DA makes it more difficult to get a warrant, wanting to judge the evidence on the “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” standard rather than the “probable cause” standard that law enforcement agencies look to satisfy before making an arrest.
This has put officers in a sticky situation regarding domestic violence cases, said Vallario and Dyer. Colorado statutes do not give law enforcement the ability to make a judgment call about domestic violence incidents — if there is any evidence at all of domestic violence, the statute says the officer or deputy must arrest the perpetrator.
So if the DA is unwilling to sign off on the arrest warrant, and state law doesn’t give officers the option of not making the arrest, then law enforcement is forced to make more warrantless arrests, said both Vallario and Dyer.
This is legal, but is not the preferred route, Vallario said, because it adds work in court of proving that authorities had probable cause for the arrest.
Anthony Mazzola, sheriff of Rio Blanco County, said soon after Caloia took office she gutted the Rio Blanco DA’s office, which is now made up only of a part-time deputy district attorney and an office clerk.
Under Martin Beeson, Caloia’s predecessor, the office had two deputy district attorneys, an investigator and an office clerk, he said.
“Rio Blanco County has always been the stepchild of the 9th Judicial District; we’ve always been left out,” said Mazzola.
Mazzola’s deputies often must talk to the part-time deputy district attorney about cases over the phone, and the relationship would be better if they were able to talk face to face, he said.
Asked about his own relationship with Caloia, he said only, “I think she’s been here a couple times.”
“Rio Blanco is a conservative county, and we’re ready for a change. We’re a Republican county; there are very few Democrats up here.”
Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling was more supportive of the DA’s office, which he said often lends its investigators to Carbondale cases. The Carbondale Police Department is in the midst of Arturo Navarrete-Portillo’s first-degree murder case, which is set to go to trial in less than a month.
Schilling said he appreciates that the DA’s office has communicated with his office about when prosecutors are considering plea deals in Carbondale cases.
The Carbondale chief did not offer an opinion on how easily the DA offers plea deals, another area in which Vallario skewered the district attorney.
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo did not return the Post Independent’s messages seeking comment. New Castle Police Chief Tony Pagni is on vacation.