Detective plans to challenge GarCo sheriff

Doug Winters learned a thing or two about life in the public spotlight as the lead Eagle County detective in the rape case involving NBA star Kobe Bryant.

Now the Rifle resident is stepping back into that spotlight by challenging incumbent and fellow Republican Lou Vallario in the race for Garfield County sheriff.

Winters, 36, who has been an Eagle County detective for more than 13 years, submitted petitions to the Garfield County clerk Thursday with the goal of getting on the Aug. 10 Republican primary ballot.

He said the petitions were signed by more than 200 registered Republican voters in the county, and he needed 69 signatures to get on the ballot. The clerk’s office will review the signatures to determine if Winters collected enough valid ones.

Winters said he didn’t decide to run until after the Republicans’ county caucuses and assembly, and so he had to petition onto the ballot. He described early reaction to his candidacy as “very positive.”

Vallario is serving his eighth year as sheriff. Also running is Democrat Tom Dalessandri, who served eight years until Vallario beat him in 2002.

“Everybody’s been telling me they’re ready for a change and ready for some new ideas and new perspective,” Winters said.

Winters said he wants to focus on spending issues within the Sheriff’s Department and what he considers to be a need for an increased emphasis on community-based policing. He’s also concerned about the number of lawsuits Vallario has faced related to jail operations and wants to involve county search and rescue personnel in deciding the appropriate levels of background checks for volunteers, after some objected to stricter checks implemented by Vallario.

He also questions Vallario’s decision to get into a personal relationship with a female jail supervisor, an issue that raised concerns among some jail employees last year. Winters said such relationships are inappropriate, can result in a hostile work environment for others and can create issues if the relationship doesn’t work out.

“It just sets the organization, the members up for negative feedback. … It’s just not a good situation to be in, period,” he said.

Vallario could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Winters was born in Denver and grew up in Craig. He got a degree in wildlife biology from Colorado State University and was a seasonal state park and forest ranger before attending the police academy at Colorado Northwestern Community College.

He said he happened to be working the day the call came in on the Kobe Bryant case, leading to his prominent involvement in the investigation and court proceedings that followed. Bryant had been accused of rape in 2003, but prosecutors dropped the case the following year when Bryant’s accuser decided not to testify.

Winters said the Bryant case provided an education in dealing with a “spectacular” influx of media. He said he welcomes the opportunity to discuss his role in the case if it comes up in the race for sheriff.

“As far as the way things were done, the way the investigation was handled, I believe we wouldn’t have done it any differently (in retrospect),” he said.

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