Eagle sheriff says he’ll help Pitkin with jail problem, but isn’t keen on long term | AspenTimes.com

Eagle sheriff says he’ll help Pitkin with jail problem, but isn’t keen on long term

Pitkin County Jail
File photo

Eagle County Detention Facility can house Pitkin County inmates on a temporary basis, but a long-term arrangement is doubtful, Sheriff James van Beek said Friday.

The neighboring counties had to act quickly last week after Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario on Tuesday sent emails to just-sworn-in Pitkin County Sheriff Michael Buglione and County Manager Jon Peacock that he was severing a courtesy inmate-hold agreement established in March 2021. 

Van Beek and Buglione reached an informal pact they said must be formalized through an intra-governmental agreement similar to the one Pitkin County had with Garfield County. The IGA would require approval from county commissioners. 

Buglione said in a press briefing Thursday he prefers a long-term relationship with Eagle County. Terms of the IGA, such as its duration and the daily fee per inmate, are to be determined. Van Beek said he views the arrangement as a short-term fix to allow Pitkin County time to come up with a solution. 

“We haven’t reached an understanding yet on that one,” said van Beek. “Our intent is shorter term, not longer term and obviously if my population starts to increase to a point that holding them becomes a nuisance, shall we say, or a problem, we always have a right to say, ‘We can’t do this anymore. Next. Come get them.’ And they know that, as well.’” 

Buglione defeated three-term Sheriff Joe DiSalvo in the November elections and campaigned on the declaration that the county did not need a new jailhouse but could improve what it had, in sharp contrast to the incumbent’s vision for a modernized, larger facility.

In last week’s emails sent to both Buglione and Peacock, Vallario said he was ending the IGA because of the politics at play. Vallario’s emails noted that a condition of the IGA was that Pitkin County would be working toward a solution to house its inmates, an initiative he did not believe would happen under Buglione. The IGA was set to expire in December 2023.

“As a result of your re-assessment of the Pitkin County Jail,” Vallario’s email to Buglione said, “the IGA regarding the housing of Pitkin County Detainees at the Garfield County Jail is no longer necessary. It is no longer in the best interests of Garfield County to devote jail resources to housing Pitkin County inmates on a courtesy basis.”

Vallario’s wife, Kim, worked as the county jail administrator under DiSalvo. She tendered her resignation after Buglione’s election win and officially left the job the first week of January.  Buglione’s supporters criticized DiSalvo because the jail administrator’s husband was known for his conservative politics and he had lent support to Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Silt, in her re-election campaign for the 3rd Congressional District. Buglione was the Democratic nominee in the sheriff’s race. DiSalvo ran unaffiliated. 

Vallario’s email to Peacock expressed his appreciation toward the county manager, but added: “I am sorry you are caught in the middle of this issue, but as they say, elections have consequences.”

The move by Vallario was not unexpected, van Beek said. 

“We had heard late last week or early this week that Garfield County is saying we’re done at this point, and so we anticipated having a call, and it’s what we do as sheriffs,” said van Beek.

Van Beek cited Pitkin County had built up goodwill with Eagle County in recent years, singling out the aid it provided during the Lake Christine Fire in July 2018. Cooperation among agencies is part of the public-safety business, he said.

“The undersheriffs talked to each other, Michael, the new sheriff, contacted me and we got to chit-chatting, and we’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s what we’re here for, that’s what we preach: that all the sheriffs will help the others ones out, and we’re here to help out in the short term until you guys can find a long-term solution, and they were looking like they were probably going to be in a bind otherwise.”

“So we had the availability. And we were hashing it out, and our conversations were positive and clarified the normal things — the expectations and nothing unusual and we made sure we all understood it.”

The March 2021 IGA between Pitkin County and Garfield County came after an inmate’s Jan. 27 attack on two Pitkin County employees — one deputy suffered neck injuries and missed work, and a sergeant suffered neck injuries, according to Aspen Times reporting from the time.

The incident came after the cell suicide of a 64-year-old female inmate by hanging in November 2019; a male and female having consensual sex in a cell where they were left alone in 2017; and an inmate causing more than $200,000 in damage to the jail when he destroyed a sprinkler head in 2016. 

The incidents showed the jail was inadequate and antiquated, DiSalvo said at the time. The sheriff closed the jail then and it reopened last summer to work-release inmates after a $1.5 million renovation. Detainees needing to be held longer than 48 hours had been transferred to Garfield County since the March 2021 IGA, and now, Eagle County. 

The jail currently has six to seven spaces for work-release inmates and 24 beds for the general population. However, the the facility in its current state does not have the flexibility to safely keep apart different categories of inmates whether because of their gender or what put them in jail in the first place — be it a violent crime, substance abuse or mental health, for instance. 

The Pitkin County Jail had 10 detainees under its jurisdiction as of 9:55 a.m. Sunday, according to online jail records. Pitkin County is responsible for transporting the inmates to Eagle County. 

The Pitkin County jail building was built in the 1970s and designated as a jail when the facility expanded in 1984. 

Eagle County Detention Center has 116 beds, but it can operate at capacity with about 80 inmates, according to van Beek. 

“I tell people it’s like playing three-dimensional chess in multiple dimensions,” the sheriff said of housing the jail’s diverse population. “Because you have the pre-sentenced folks, the folks who are sentenced. There are people here with medical issues, and you can’t put the females with the males, and  I may have one female taking up one of the four beds (in a cell or pod) because she’s the only female and you can’t put in other people. There are all types of dimensions — different types of crimes and  cultures, so we try to keep people separated who don’t get along. It’s constant movement of personnel to keep it safe and secure, and every jail deals with that.”



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