Hilkey warned Meis on ticket fix
“Fixing a ticket” is not a good idea and an “ethical noose” for the head of any law enforcement agency, Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey told Commissioner Craig Meis last month.
The message was part of an email exchange one day before Meis’ now-famous correspondence with Chaffee County Sheriff Peter Palmer over a fire ban ticket.
Hilkey’s observations were made in reply to an email sent by Meis on July 2, two days after Meis was issued a ticket on suspicion of violating a fire ban for lighting up a $3 portable grill on a camping trip in the San Isabel National Forest. The area was under fire restrictions. At the time, a wildfire raged near De Beque.
The email was provided to The Daily Sentinel under the Colorado Open Records Act.
“When a deputy issues a citation/summons do you have latitude to exercise any discretion over the issuance or is it now a matter for the DA to address?” Meis wrote to Hilkey on July 2. “Wasn’t aware of the process and what if any role you might play after a summons is issued by one of your deputies. Thanks, Craig.”
In response, Hilkey said he potentially could intervene if there was a clear error, lack of probable cause or obvious impropriety on the part of a deputy.
“Otherwise, ‘fixing a ticket’ is considered an ethical noose that I’d rather not put around me or my agency’s neck,” the sheriff replied to Meis. “It’s exactly the kind of abuse of power that provides immediate satisfaction to someone, but broadly erodes the community’s trust.”
Hilkey continued, “In this business there are very few absolutes, but it would have to be some really unique circumstances where I would intervene on the legitimate issuance of a ticket.”
Meis’ query left Hilkey suspicious.
“Do you have any information that I need to know about, or is this a general question?” Hilkey asked.
One day after the e-mail exchange, Meis sent another e-mail to Palmer, saying he’d be “disappointed” if he had to come to court because of his fire ban ticket issued on June 30.
“In short, I’m asking for your discretion in this matter at this time since Deputy (Matthew) Goodwin was unable to receive such at the time and based solely on these circumstances and not on my position as a county commissioner,” Meis said.
The request drew a scathing response from Palmer, writing, “it’s not often I receive a request to have a ticket fixed and yours is the first from a county commissioner.”
The evening after Meis and Palmer exchanged emails, Palmer forwarded copies of the messages to The Daily Sentinel, The Associated Press and Mountain Mail newspaper in Salida.
In an interview with the Sentinel, Meis denied trying to “fix” the ticket and called the suggestion “entertaining.”
Meis criticized what he characterized as a lack of discretion by a Colorado State Parks officer, who cited the commissioner in June 2010 for allowing Meis’ underage son to operate a personal watercraft at Highline Lake State Park. Meis repeatedly raised his position with the parks officer and said he knew District Attorney Pete Hautzinger “very well.”
The Daily Sentinel also reported on separate incidents in 2007 and 2008 when the commissioner yet again raised his elected position, or proximity to powerful officials, when contacted by Grand Junction police officers.