By Jim Alderden
Larimer County Sheriff
I am a firm believer that the sheriff is the highest law enforcement authority in the land and I have previously published my views on this esteemed Office. The Office of Sheriff has a long and valued history as the “protector of the shire” and is the only elected law enforcement officer making him directly accountable to the people. However, there are limitations on the powers and authority granted to the sheriff. A certain former Arizona sheriff – and I emphasize “former” since he was roundly defeated when he sought a third term – has since earned a living by promoting his distorted view of the authority of the Office through public appearances and his 49-page book touting the Sheriff as “America’s Last Hope.” Most of what he says is factual; however, some of his claims are completely false. Unfortunately, it is these later claims that resonate with some of the folks at the far right of the political spectrum, a group that I have typically identified with. There is wishful thinking – and then there is reality.
One of the myths being perpetrated and that was bought hook, line and sinker by even one of the current candidates for sheriff is that the sheriff has the authority to throw all federal authorities out of the county. No more FBI, DEA, ATF, or IRS without the approval of the Sheriff. This was supposedly based on a case from 1993 in Wyoming involving the Big Horn County Sheriff . That’s almost 20 years ago. The case is Casteneda v. United States, No. 96-CV-099. It has been widely reported that the Sheriff adopted a policy that no federal officers could do anything in his county without his permission and that the courts had ruled in his favor on this issue. That isn’t even close to the truth! I personally spoke with the Sheriff shortly after this story began circulating and have a letter from the court that debunks this whole thing. The Sheriff’s actual policy was that he wouldn’t send his personnel out to assist federal authorities unless he first reviewed their case. The Chief Judge for the United States District Court, District of Wyoming, wrote, “This Court has never issued an order which would serve to limit the lawful activities and duties of federal law enforcement officers and other federal employees in the District of Wyoming. Futhermore, the Court has never made the comments attributed to it which purports to advise state officers they can prohibit federal law enforcement officers or agent from entering a Wyoming County. Those alleged quotations are utterly false.”
Some of the discussions I have had with members of this faction recently really concern me. They absolutely believe that the sheriff is the ultimate authority on all things legal and that he can serve as absolute dictator, ignoring the other two branches of government: the legislative branch and the judiciary. They’ve read the pamphlet and spoken with fellow followers of the former sheriff and appear to be indoctrinated into an almost cult-like belief system. A dangerous belief system if you really support the U.S. Constitution and the separation of powers. The latest turn is an effort to have me declare that bills passed by the Colorado legislature in the last session (House Bills 1189, 1190, 1191, 1192, 1193, 1194, 1195, 1196, 1197, HB 1199, and 1200) are unconstitutional under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). Most of these bills suspended or eliminated specific tax exemptions. Others placed certain caps on losses or credits. Republican legislators objected to these bills and felt they should apply to the TABOR limits. Their Democrat counterparts carried the day and passed the bills. The Colorado Supreme Court determined that they were properly passed and were not in conflict with TABOR.
I have been asked to “rule” that these bills are unconstitutional and that the taxes won’t be collected in Larimer County, ignoring the fact that the sheriff doesn’t collect taxes. The legislature passes laws. The judiciary interprets laws. The executive branch, including the sheriff, enforces law.
When I took my Oath of Office I pledged to support the Constitution of the United States, to support the Constitution of the State of Colorado, and to faithfully perform the duties of the Office of Sheriff. Part of that duty is to enforce the laws enacted by the legislature even if I don’t like them. The bigger part of that duty is to honor and respect the principles of the Founding Fathers and the check and balances our form of government embraces, recognizing there will be conflict between the three branches of government and knowing my role. The role of the sheriff is not that of king.