Good relationship with feds keys improvement

It wasn’t so long ago that this community endured a debate about the role of the county sheriff. In the run-up to Matt Lewis’ election as successor to Stan Hilkey’s administration in 2014, the GOP primary race included a “constitutional sheriff” candidate who aligned himself with a movement to fight federal encroachment, which carried all sorts of worrisome implications.

But a good working relationship between the sheriff and the U.S. Department of Justice is vital when it comes to enhancing the public’s safety, as a recent agreement for the feds to take on more drug traffickers can attest.

Thanks to a planned expansion of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Grand Junction, a new agreement with the Mesa County Jail and a solid working relationship with local law enforcement, acting U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer said his office’s Grand Junction branch is poised to take on more drug trafficking cases.

That’s good news for the DA’s office, which for years has been forced to prosecute cases stemming from drug busts on local highways even though defendants may have no ties to Colorado. A growing felony caseload is one of the reasons DA Dan Rubinstein is behind a push to get voter approval of a sales tax hike to better fund law enforcement in Mesa County.

As the Sentinel’s Gabrielle Porter reported Wednesday, Troyer’s office is in the process of hiring a second Mesa County-based prosecutor, which should at least double the case load capacity of the lone assistant U.S. attorney currently assigned to Mesa County, former DA Pete Hautzinger.

But deploying more prosecutors wouldn’t be possible without Lewis agreeing to house more federal inmates in the county jail. Under a June 1 agreement, Lewis agreed to up the number of federal inmates from 10 to 15, as long as their criminal cases were adopted from Rubinstein’s office by federal prosecutors or arrested locally into a federal case to begin with. The extra five beds can’t be used for federal inmates whose crimes don’t have a link to Mesa County.

“The partnerships with people like Matt Lewis are just essential,” Troyer said. “We couldn’t be doing any of this stuff without those guys working with us ... bringing something to the table like Matt did with the five extra beds in his jail.”

Troyer deserves some credit as well for recognizing that his office could do more for Mesa County, especially given its location — the first county in Colorado for eastbound traffic on Interstate 70.

Putting another federal prosecutor in Mesa County is a “situational response” to a community safety problem, he said. The bottom line is that the feds are stepping up to free the local DA to focus on prosecuting local crimes, which is possible because they’ve found a way to work together.


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