Sheriff defends his use of force
Editor’s note: The following column by Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario was submitted in response to media coverage of his use of armed officers to break into the home of Tom Shiflett near New Castle to have Shiflett’s son’s head injury examined by a doctor.The comments titled “Both parties are to blame,” printed in the Post Independent (in an editorial Friday) were fair, honest and accurate reporting, unlike what we have seen across the country this week. As sheriff, of course I believe in the Constitution but I also took an oath to “protect and serve” and enforce federal and Colorado laws. I have no problem with those who consider themselves “constitutionalists,” or any other legal political party or belief. My statement about “constitutionalists” was completely distorted, taken out of context (in the World Net Daily) and the reporter with the WND had no interest in my true views of people who live to support the Constitution.I have read many stories over the past few days; in many cases the reporters already have a bias in place. A true and accurate story would include information-gathering, all sides of the story and the full facts. I took the time to speak with World Net Daily (something nobody else involved chose to do) and have made myself available to the responsible public and the media who want the full story.Taking responsibility for his statement during a live radio interview on KLIF Dallas talk radio this week, Tom Shiflett told officers who contacted him the first time that “they had better bring an army” if they came back to his house. In 2005 Tom Shiflett was arrested for menacing with a deadly weapon. In Shiflett’s own words he told the officer, “So I grabbed my wood ax off of the porch and chased him up the street with it, and that bastard is lucky he can run faster then me because I would have planted it in his head.”Commanded by a court order to ensure that the child receives a medical evaluation, we absolutely tried to speak with the father before using our All Hazards Response Team. The second time two uniformed deputies were sent to Shiflett’s door they explained why we were there and what we were required to do by legal court order. We received no cooperation by Shiflett. That decision along with the “you better bring an army” statement and the level of violence he used in 2005 (referring to his arrest) left me with a decision to make. Putting the safety of the officers, family inside, and Shiflett history into perspective, we then safely complied with the court order generated by ambulance crews, the county Department of Human Services and the courts.Understand that nobody was “thrown” to the floor; they were ordered to get down on the floor. The father and two other adults were handcuffed, a safety tactic used for the protection of the officers and individuals inside the house. These steps were taken because of the very tight quarters inside the trailer and Tom Shiflett was obviously very agitated.Although I understand the father’s “fear of unnecessary hospital bills,” I also understand that the Department of Human Services offered to pay for the treatment in its entirety. I can tell you that I have personally had confrontations with the father over issues, one specifically that required me to ask him to leave the office because he was becoming agitated, confrontational and was scaring the citizens and administrative staff in the office.I cannot speak for the other agencies’ concerns but I can tell you that my only concern was the welfare of the child. Although I can risk defying a court order and suffering the consequences, I certainly did not see the need in this case. I believe the action taken on their part was due to a lack of cooperation by the father while we attempted to resolve this issue.Again I would state, why not? If a simple, all-expense-paid visit to the doctors office would have confirmed the extent of his son’s injuries, and saved his family and community from all the stress that came with the court order, what’s the harm?I strongly believe that the parents should be the ones making those decisions, but when faced with what we were faced with here why wouldn’t you put the child’s safety first? Why wouldn’t you cooperate with the agencies asking questions? Maybe to do so, this would have been resolved quietly and peacefully. I live by this motto: “My decisions, my consequences.” I would suggest we apply the same to Mr. Shiflett.What’s most important is that the child’s injuries were not life-threatening and everyone is safe. I have faith in the decisions I have made and now have the final task of evaluating where we have been and what we can learn from each situation. As always, I continue to serve with my doors open.
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