Sheriff cleared in DA’s probe
'Not a scintilla of evidence’ of wrongdoing, Beeson says
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario says he’s worked in law enforcement for 22 years and “never received so much as a reprimand.”
But now, he says, some people always will associate him with criminal activity, even after Ninth Judicial District Attorney Martin Beeson announced Wednesday that an investigation prompted by an anonymous e-mail will result in no criminal charges against Vallario.
Vallario told reporters the e-mail “was done in a cowardly fashion, and it accomplished what it wanted to accomplish, and that was to create a lot of noise and try to destroy me.”
Beeson said the investigation found “not a scintilla of evidence” to support allegations of criminal wrongdoing.
The e-mail was sent to two county commissioners and two reporters in early February. Vallario said Wednesday the e-mail was traced to two employees, neither of whom he or Beeson identified publicly. Neither any longer works for the department. One had been terminated for other reasons before the e-mail’s authorship was determined, and the other was let go after having failed to cooperate in the Sheriff’s Department’s own investigation into the e-mail, Vallario said.
County commissioners referred the e-mail to Beeson because some of the allegations, if true, could have constituted misuse of public funds.
“Only two of these allegations contained anything akin to criminal allegations, and those are the two allegations that we focused on,” Beeson said.
He decided against pursuing criminal charges over allegations that an employee who also is Vallario’s girlfriend took more vacation time than she earned and slept in a sheriff’s vehicle while on duty.
“This conclusion, in my view, clears their good names, and there will be no further charges in this matter, and this matter will not be pursued any further,” Beeson said.
Beeson said he had his investigation reviewed by Fifth Judicial District Attorney Mark Hurlburt, who supported his conclusion.
Beeson shared Vallario’s concern over the means by which the investigation came about.
“I think it’s a dangerous precedent for an anonymous e-mail to cause something to snowball into a criminal investigation,” he said.
He said there was so little evidence in the original e-mail that he normally “would have placed it in the trash can where it belonged.” But he said he had his staff proceed with the investigation because it involved a public servant who must be held to a higher standard. He said he hadn’t calculated how much the investigation cost, but that it took a substantial amount of time for him and his staff.
Beeson said to prosecute those behind the e-mail would require showing they specifically intended to defraud or hurt someone. He said there was no evidence of such intent, despite the possibility the e-mail could hurt someone.
Beeson said in an interview that his office found no eyewitness to substantiate the claim that the employee slept on the job. Administrative records didn’t show an abuse of vacation time, and no one had personal knowledge of such an abuse, he said.
Vallario said he appreciated Beeson’s investigation and is glad it cleared his name and others’ names.
“As far as I’m concerned, this thing is a done deal,” he said.
The e-mail also accused Vallario of promoting his girlfriend to a jail supervisory position over more qualified employees, and accused the two of them of showing favoritism toward some employees, and dismissing and demoting others with little or no reason. Vallario has blamed the e-mail on disgruntled employees who weren’t happy with the changes he has been making in the jail’s management.
“I think we’ve eliminated that problem. I think morale is good,” Vallario said.
He said the majority of the 16 people interviewed by investigators were former employees.
“There’s 140-some people who work at the sheriff’s office that I think seem to like their job, seem to like what we do,” he said.
Some Sheriff’s Department employees attended Wednesday’s news conference and applauded Vallario following his comments.
A two-term Republican incumbent, Vallario said he plans to seek re-election in 2010.
Vallario on Wednesday again defended having a relationship with an employee, saying “20-something others” in his department also are in relationships with fellow employees.
“All are managed appropriately within the organization,” he said.
Former detention deputy Jody Gecevich said she thinks the investigation’s outcome will make people think nothing in the e-mail was true. But she thinks there are some serious issues needing to be addressed within the department, such as good people losing their jobs under what she calls a “his way or no way” management approach by Vallario.
She believes she was fired because the department knew she had a solid sexual-harassment case against a fellow female employee. Gecevich said she supposedly was let go because of how much time she took off, but she said other employees missed more work, and she was a single mom who had to tend to a sick daughter.
Vallario previously said he can’t recall the circumstances of Gecevich’s departure because she left several years ago.
Gecevich thinks problems involving Vallario will never be addressed if people working there now don’t step forward publicly with their concerns.
“These people need to come forth if they want the department to change,” she said.