DA releases report on Garco sheriff
Glenwood Springs correspondent
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” The 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office report on the investigation of alleged criminal wrongdoing by Sheriff Lou Vallario named two former sheriff’s office employees as the authors of the anonymous e-mail.
The report indicated that through a sheriff’s office internal investigation, former jail commander Scott Dawson and former corporal Al Walker were found to be the authors of the now infamous e-mail.
District Attorney Chief Investigator Beth Bascom’s 270-page report included interviews with 16 current and former employees of the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office including Vallario, the detention sergeant, Dawson and Walker.
It was Vallario’s opinion that Dawson and Walker were trying to destroy him because of his recent involvement in the management of the jail over the last year or two. Vallario said he got involved with the way the jail was managed in an attempt to raise the quality of the jail, as well as questioning some existing programs, and changing some of the promotional decisions and staff assignments.
Vallario told Bascom that Walker and Dawson set out to “save their own little world by creating this public outcry and try to get me ousted.”
Dawson was fired in February for an unrelated matter. Walker was fired for not cooperating with the internal investigation.
The e-mail alleged that the detention sergeant under Vallario slept in her vehicle while on duty and that she took more vacation time than she had available, either of which could have been criminal in terms of “stealing” taxpayer money. Other allegations were that she was often absent from her post while on duty because she was in Vallario’s office, and that she was promoted to sergeant over a more qualified employee.
While investigators found no criminal wrongdoing, the report details confusion between ranks on what the protocol is for vacation time requests.
Several of those interviewed stated that they were unaware of how the sergeant was able to take so much vacation time.
Bascom concluded after reviewing the sergeant’s time cards that she had not taken any time that was not available.
Dawson said that the sergeant was “manipulating the schedule” to make up for vacation time taken. He said vacation was taken, but taken in such a manner that hours were made up for through unapproved overtime.
Dawson stated to Bascom that during the last half of 2008, while protocol required the sergeant to submit leave requests to him because he was her supervisor, she had quit doing so and was still taking time off.
Bascom explained in the report that she asked Dawson how her time off was handled if he was no longer getting the requests. Dawson replied, “It simply wasn’t handled because most of the personal days off, she was with the sheriff.”
Dawson also stated that, “At that point you knew, apparently, that was the new procedure, and she could get it approved directly through (Vallario).”
Bascom reported that when she asked Vallario about Dawson’s claim of not signing off on her leave requests, and hadn’t done so for a long period of time, Vallario stated, “I guess that would be up to him to make sure that he received them before they were put on the schedule and they were allowed to take time off.”
Vallario added if there was a case where the former jail commander did not see a leave slip, that was Dawson’s management failure.
The sergeant told Bascom that she had never been paid for time that was not available and that sergeants manage their own shifts. So, if she wanted to take vacation, and there were enough people to cover the shift, she would take vacation and turn her leave request in with her time card.
Therefore, she said that she did not take leave requests to Dawson for prior approval. She said that is how Dawson wanted it.
In response to Dawson’s statement that the sergeant quit submitting leave slips to him for his approval in mid-2008, she said she didn’t know if, as a sergeant, she had ever turned in a leave request.
The sergeant later told Bascom, “I could have possibly misunderstood what Dawson was asking from us, but I don’t remember. I’m not sure.”
Vallario stated the jail commander oversees the schedule, but the four sergeants have a lot of “flexibility to manipulate the schedule” for various reasons of needing shifts covered. He added that the shift sergeants “manage their own schedules,” but the responsibility does fall on the commander.
Questions of favoritism came up during the promotion of the sergeant to her current position. The sergeant, who has now worked for the sheriff’s office for more than five years, was promoted to sergeant in December 2007 over Cpl. Ron Mitchell. Mitchell told Bascom that he felt he was overlooked in 2007 due to the personal relationship between Vallario and the sergeant.
The report stated that the promotion was done in front of an oral board, which included the undersheriff, three other sergeants and Vallario. When the decision came to a 2-2 split, Vallario cast the final vote in favor of the sergeant.
“He didn’t do anything malicious to me, but I had a lot of experience, over 30 years. I’ve been a supervisor, and I felt like he overlooked me,” Mitchell said in the report.
Mitchell left in June 2008, he said, in part because of the incident.
Vallario previously told the Post Independent that he and the sergeant were not involved at the time of the promotion, saying that they had not become involved until after January 2008. Mitchell alleged that the relationship started before that.
A former office manager told Bascom that Vallario “lied to the paper” about their relationship and that he told her in January 2008 that he was in love with the sergeant.
The former office manager also told Bascom that she was asked to resign or be fired by the undersheriff. She turned in her resignation in April 2008, but stated that, to this day, she does not know why she was asked to leave.
“(The manager) and Mitchell are full of it and don’t know what they are talking about,” Vallario said. “They are taking the opportunity to lie through their teeth to exact revenge for choosing to leave or being asked to leave. You need to consider the source and the motives of these people and that they are out to destroy me because they don’t like the fact that they were removed for not performing their jobs.”
According to the report, Garfield County Attorney Don DeFord confirmed that Sheriff Lou Vallario is the elected sheriff with the power to promote, demote or fire; make or change assignments; and transfer or create positions as necessary, and every employee is “at will” in his administration. He has absolute discretion (with certain constitutional exceptions, such as race and gender) as to how he runs his department.
DeFord further explained that Sheriff Vallario has the authority to reassign the sergeant or any other employee to something different as needed.
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