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DA blasts drug task force

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Ninth District Attorney Mac Myers issued a written statement Tuesday blasting the tactics and professionalism the Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Team exhibited during 2002 and 2003. TRIDENT chairman Gene Schilling, who is also Carbondale’s police chief, and Garfield County sheriff Lou Vallario, the agency’s vice chairman, both contend that Myers’ statement is politically motivated and it contains several opinions that aren’t necessarily based on facts. In the statement, Myers wrote that the DA office’s decision to pull out of TRIDENT in January “has recently become an issue in the DA race.”The race to which he refers is the Aug. 10 primary election between Republican candidates Colleen Truden and Lawson Wills. Myers said while campaigning to become the next DA, Truden has criticized his office for withdrawing from the undercover drug enforcement agency. “I attempted to be tactful about the reasons for pulling out, but since it has become an issue, it seemed kind of important to lay it out there,” he said. Truden’s campaign manager, John Tindall, said he feels Myers’ statement isn’t relevant to the campaign. “It’s not fair to characterize her statements that way,” he said. “Her comments were made in answer to a reporter’s questions a week ago.”Tindall said Truden supports the concept of TRIDENT, but she has made a commitment to evaluate TRIDENT, but she hasn’t yet pledged her full support of the agency. Tindall also questioned the timing of Myers’ statement two weeks before the primary. “I think Mac needs to justify to the voters of the 9th Judicial District, ‘Why now? Why not four months ago?'” he said. The statementIn his statement, Myers said TRIDENT was established in 1995 and had “evolved into a first-rate law enforcement agency and remained such through 2001.”But during 2002 and 2003, Myers wrote that the agency changed for the worse. “I took the D.A.’s office out of TRIDENT for one reason: since January of 2003, the task force had become the sloppiest, most poorly managed law enforcement agency I have seen in my 25 years working in the criminal justice system,” he wrote. Examples of that sloppiness, he wrote, included mismanagement of confidential informants; failure to prepare reports; failure and sometimes refusal to turn over important information to prosecutors; poor evidence handling, loss of priorities; and improperly arresting people outside their jurisdiction.Schilling insists Myers’ statement is politically motivated and called it a “mudslinging thing.””I’m sorry this stuff came out at this time,” he said. “It’s pretty political in nature.”Schilling surmises that Myers released the statement because both he and Vallario have thrown their personal support behind Truden in the D.A. race. Vallario also feels the statement is purely political and he questioned its timing. “He has his reasons for doing what he did, and I think they’re politically motivated,” Vallario said. Vallario admitted that there are some truths in Myers’ statement, but that much of the statement is merely the outgoing D.A.’s opinions. One of the allegations made by Myers is that TRIDENT used criminals on probation as confidential informants “in direct defiance of state probation directives.””He may not agree with our methodology, but I wouldn’t say we crossed the line or anything,” Vallario said.Once, a person on probation was used in an undercover drug bust, but TRIDENT agents were not aware of that person’s probationary status and that the person was “found out later to be on probation,” Vallario said.The informant wasn’t on probation when he was used as an informant, but he was by the time the case was prosecuted, Vallario said. “If there’s an allegation or an insinuation that we would deliberately do that, we wouldn’t,” Vallario said. Quest for more arrestsThe next reason Myers cited for pulling his office from TRIDENT is his opinion that the agency “seemed more concerned with the number of arrests they made than being able to prove a crime.”Myers wrote that he saw it as a conflict of interest to participate in a program where there was an appearance of need to keep our conviction statistics in line with arrest statistics in order to keep grant money flowing in. “In their quest for more and more arrests, team members supported concessions for informants with serious criminal cases pending to help make more arrests, often by having the (confidential informant) coax some addict to come in and buy drugs from a task force officer,” Myers wrote. Vallario said there was pressure to make more arrests each year to keep the federal grants coming in, but he said the cases “were handled well.”As for coaxing addicts into buying drugs from an officer, Vallario said that “goes back to philosophy.””Clearly it’s not entrapment by definition of the law,” he said. “That’s how we operate; we buy dope from people who are distributing dope and we arrest them.”Myers next claims that Schilling and Vallario did nothing to make their agents conform to “acceptable law enforcement conduct.””Part of the district attorney’s responsibility is to operate as a check on overzealous law enforcement. As part of the TRIDENT organization, we were in the unacceptable position of acting as adviser and prosecutor for an organization that was committed to racking up arrest numbers regardless of the quality of the case they presented to the D.A. for prosecution,” he wrote.Vallario said shortly after the D.A.’s office pulled out of TRIDENT, activity in the task force was suspended and reorganized in an attempt to regain its former focus. Missing moneyMyers said another reason he pulled his office out of TRIDENT was because, “Most of last year I felt like TRIDENT was a lawsuit waiting to happen and I didn’t want my employee and my office being in the position of being sued for the recklessness of the task force.”Vallario said he never heard Myers say anything like that at a board meeting. “A lot of this sounds like it stems from some anger and political overtones,” Vallario said. Aside from expounding on his reasons for leaving TRIDENT, Myers touched on “a new situation that reinforces my belief that we were correct in leaving.”He wrote that a substantial amount of money that was seized by TRIDENT is missing and unaccounted for. “The Colorado Bureau of Investigation is currently investigating the circumstances of this loss,” Myers wrote. Vallario confirmed that there is an investigation into the missing money, but declined to comment further. Myers said he still has a lot of respect for Vallario, saying the sheriff “did a good job at one point,” but guesses that Vallario was “overwhelmed” during his first year in office as sheriff to closely watch TRIDENT.Vallario said he’s proud of TRIDENT’s track record, adding that the agency has recently become active once again. “Overall, I think they’re doing a great job and I’m proud of what they’ve done,” he said. Vallario said he thinks the agency has been “making a dent” in the valley’s drug trafficking and pointed out that during the agency’s nine years of existence, there have been between 60 and 120 arrests each year.Myers’ statement concludes by saying that his office still believes “well-run undercover drug operations are an important tool in combating the drug problem,” but that each city, town and county should be able to choose whether to allow undercover operations to happen in their jurisdictions. “Garfield County and Rio Blanco County need a drug task force and deserve one that will operate in a competent and ethical fashion,” he wrote.Contact Greg Massé: 945-8515, ext. 511gmasse@postindependent.com


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