Report details morale problems in GarCo Sheriff’s Department

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — After a promotions board deadlocked 2–2 over whom to elevate to the job of Garfield County Jail sergeant in late 2007, Sheriff Lou Vallario reportedly cast the deciding vote.

By that time, Vallario already had an infatuation with his choice, a former sheriff’s employee told the Ninth Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

Vallario’s assertion in the media that he didn’t start dating the sergeant until after her promotion isn’t true, his former office manager said. The office manager was one of several past and present employees to question the actions of Vallario and his girlfriend in statements employees made to an investigator for DA Martin Beeson, an investigative report shows.

Beeson last week announced there was no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing by the pair.

His office focused on allegations in an anonymous e-mail that the girlfriend had slept in a vehicle on the job and taken paid vacation she hadn’t earned, both of which would constitute misuse of public funds.

The former office manager told an investigator that although what Vallario did isn’t criminal, she believes it’s a crime for Vallario to be so unethical and immoral.

Others also voiced concerns about Vallario in the 270-page report, made available through a public records request. It details chief investigator Beth Bascom’s interviews with 16 people.

“Most of the persons interviewed agreed early on that they did not know if their specific complaint or information rose to the level of criminal behavior but wanted to relate issues that they believed to be unethical and/or possibly criminal,” Bascom wrote.

Vallario couldn’t be reached for comment Monday but has said criticism of him comes from disgruntled former employees who opposed changes he has made in the jail.

Several people Bascom interviewed repeated allegations made in the e-mail sent earlier this year about poor morale in the department and favoritism related to Vallario’s relationship with his employee. Any noncriminal allegations were outside the purview of Beeson’s investigation.

The report also says a Sheriff’s Department internal investigation identified the two people behind the e-mail, which was sent to two county commissioners and two reporters earlier this year. One is former jail commander Scott Dawson and the other is former detention corporal Al Walker.

Dawson — who told Bascom about Vallario breaking the tie in the promotion decision — and Walker both have been fired. Vallario said last week one person behind the e-mail was let go after not cooperating in the internal investigation, and the other for different reasons.

In a lawsuit filed against the Sheriff’s Department last year, Lisa Martin, the daughter of County Commissioner John Martin, accused Dawson of sexually harassing her and said she was wrongfully terminated from her job at the jail. Vallario previously has called those allegations “totally frivolous.”

Dawson told Bascom he had no way to verify the time-off requests of Vallario’s girlfriend and felt he had no choice but to sign them because her relationship with Vallario gave her the ability to do what she wanted.

But Vallario told Bascom the amount of paid time available is on the bottom of pay stubs, and it was Dawson’s job to review his girlfriend’s vacation requests and ensure the accuracy of her time sheets.

The former office manager said Vallario told employees he didn’t want them giving his girlfriend a hard time, and she was careful not to do anything to upset his girlfriend, which would upset him.

Nevertheless, after several outstanding reviews she was given a choice last year to resign or be fired without being given a reason, she said.

An employee in the sheriff’s court services division said he had heard that people couldn’t tell Vallario’s girlfriend things because she would go to the sheriff, and that things became harder at work once they started dating.

Some former employees say Vallario apparently acted on threats to give bad references to ex-employees who had been unhappy with the department.

One employee said Vallario’s girlfriend spent a lot of time in his office behind closed doors during her shifts.

Vallario told Bascom his girlfriend probably has been in his office at times to discuss things such as the jail and to have personal conversations, but he said employees commonly stop in to discuss work or personal issues.

Vallario told Bascom he would never use his relationship with his girlfriend to exert improper influence or adversely affect his office.

“He said the relationship is the relationship and when we’re at work, we’re at work,” Bascom wrote.

Vallario, a Republican and two-term incumbent who ran unopposed in 2006, plans to seek re-election in 2010.

Ed Sands, chairman of the Garfield Democratic Party, said the party already is discussing finding someone to run against Vallario and challenge him on issues such as employee morale and lawsuits related to jail operations.


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