New Castle forced-entry case attracting national attention |

New Castle forced-entry case attracting national attention

Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Authorities said they have received hundreds of phone calls and e-mails this week from people around the country who think Garfield County uses SWAT teams on people who are “constitutionalists.”

Some messages included angry cursing and comparisons between Garfield County and Nazi Germany.

Callers mistakenly believed the Garfield County All Hazards Response Team – similar to a SWAT team – was used for “no reason other than that (Sheriff Lou Vallario) personally had it in for constitutionalists,” said community relations deputy Tanny McGinnis. She estimated the Sheriff’s Office received up to 400 calls and e-mails on the matter this week. Most were in response to a story that appeared on a website Monday about the use of the armed team to remove a child from the home of Tom Shiflett near New Castle, to get the child medical attention.

“A lot of people have shared with us that they were misled by the original World Net Daily article,” McGinnis said. “(Sheriff Lou Vallario) made a statement about constitutionalists that was completely taken out of context.”

She said many people apologized in e-mails after hearing Vallario’s side of the story, and that a WND reporter cut off Vallario and wouldn’t listen to answers he didn’t want to hear.

“It wasn’t an interview,” McGinnis said. “It was an argument. This guy would not listen if he didn’t like the answers.”

About the only thing clear about what went on during the interview is that there was some miscommunication.

WND reporter Bob Unruh responded in an e-mail: “When I interviewed the sheriff, I tried diligently to allow him to wander where he chose with his answers. I specifically was trying to find out the reasoning for dispatching a SWAT team under the circumstances the family already had described to me, or whether this family’s version was incorrect. I understand the sheriff has been telling people my reporting is incorrect. However, he’s declined to contact me about any concerns he has.

“His reference to Mr. Shiflett as a ‘constitutionalist’ came when I asked him specifically about why a SWAT team was used to take a child to a doctor’s exam. I asked him what that meant, or if anything was wrong with that; the sheriff then said he’d had ‘personal encounters’ with Mr. Shiflett, and he’d made threats. I asked if Mr. Shiflett had been cited, or ticketed, or otherwise penalized for those ‘threats,’ and the sheriff refused to cite a single incident or situation. … I would be more than happy to talk to the sheriff, especially to hear an explanation why he responded with the ‘constitutionalist’ description of Mr. Shiflett when I asked about the use of a SWAT team. “

But Vallario said it’s not his job to make sure a reporter reports the news accurately.

WND’s website says it’s a “fiercely independent news site committed to hard-hitting investigative reporting of government waste, fraud and abuse.” It adds that it “has broken some of the biggest, most significant and most notable investigative and enterprising stories in recent years,” and that its “unique and aggressive reporting style” has captured a large and growing Internet audience.

“Now, teamed with a lean but growing full-time staff of 25, is poised to spark a media revolution,” the site says.

The website calls WND a “conservative” site and has criticized some of its work.

McGinnis said the Shiflett story also made it to a KLIF Dallas talk radio show, which she said did a well-balanced job of reporting. She forwarded some e-mails from people who contacted the Sheriff’s office.

“I personally am satisfied with (Vallario’s) words below. And this is exactly why I always call to get the facts of a story,” wrote Chelene Nightingale, media and events director for, in an e-mail forwarded from McGinnis.

A J.T. Sparks wrote in another e-mail that he apologizes for “nasty remarks” to Vallario. He said he’s retired from the Navy.

Sparks wrote, “I am sorry for my nasty words, and I hope you all will forgive me. In addition, I have forwarded your e-mail to World Net Daily, hoping they will print it to offset the misleading story they published.”

One misinformed woman even mistakenly asked where Tom Shiflett’s son, Jon, was incarcerated and why he was being force-fed narcotics, said James Bradford, clerk of the combined courts for Garfield County. He estimated his office has received around 40 calls about the Shifletts this week. However, he added that a good number of the callers were reasonable and polite and were merely asking for verification, but unfortunately, his office cannot comment on juvenile cases.

Following a court order, the Sheriff’s Office used the All Hazards Response Team to break in the Shifletts’ door in Apple Tree Park on the night of Jan. 4. Jon, 11, was returned hours later with a doctor’s recommendation to ice his bruises and take Tylenol.

He had fallen and hurt his head and face after grabbing onto the handle of a moving car a day earlier. Paramedics were concerned about Jon’s health and alerted the Garfield County Department of Social Services, which led to a search warrant and order for treatment. Prior to the break-in, Shiflett was asked multiple times to let authorities examine his son, but he refused because he never asked for the help and wanted to exercise his right to care for his own son.

At one point, he said authorities “better bring an army” if they obtained a court order.

The Shifletts said they never invited anyone into their home, their rights were violated, and the manner of entry of the law enforcement team was inappropriate.

Vallario has defended the decision to use the team in order to achieve the highest level of safety. He pointed out Shiflett was given opportunities to comply and that Shiflett has had a history of confrontational behavior, including chasing someone with an ax in 2005. Prosecutors dropped charges in that incident.

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