Two men running for county sheriff have offered different accounts as to how they would have handled recent allegations that a sergeant had drunk to much at home to respond to an after-hours call to help catch a suspected murderer.
Democrat candidate Craig Jones said he would repeal the sheriff office’s policy that lets officers determine if they are fit for emergency duty after drinking off duty, providing they tell a supervisor they’ve been drinking.
Republican candidate Adam Shepherd said he would keep the existing policy, but enforce it better.
The current policy stipulates that an officer must let a supervisor know that they have been drinking, so the supervisor can affirm or deny the officer’s decision to return to work.
In the recent case, Sgt. John France got a call at home while off duty to come in to help in a high-speed chase for homicide suspect Gabriel Jaramillo near Roosevelt Lake.
France later told his supervisors he had a mixed drink with dinner and was taking a sip from a second drink when he got the call to help.
Feeling sober, France raced to the scene. He ultimately got involved in a shoot-out with Jaramillo. Neither was injured and Jaramillo later fled into the desert where he hid for several days before giving up.
After the chase, a sheriff’s deputy reported to supervisors that he had smelled alcohol on France and believed he was intoxicated.
An internal investigation concluded, however, that France did nothing wrong in the course of the chase and shoot-out, but supervisors put a “memorandum of concern” in his file saying he should have told his supervisors he’d been drinking before answering the call.
France escaped serious charges or a loss in pay.
Asked how they would have handled the situation if sheriff, the candidates gave widely different responses.
Jones says he would repeal the controversial policy and bar officers from responding if they have been drinking, even if they feel fit for duty and inform their supervisors. He said the current policy carries too much liability.
“I won’t hold it against officers if they had a couple beers and couldn’t come out, but I don’t want them to come out there,” he said. “We have other officers available.”
Shepherd said he would keep the policy, but enforce it better, making sure every deputy understood it completely.
Shepherd said the policy has been in place since before he joined the office in the 1980s. So far, no officer has abused the policy.
He said the policy makes it possible to have every officer that’s fit for duty on deck in high-risk situations.
France happened to be relatively close and available.
“We have that policy because we are always limited on officers,” he said. “That is why we give them take-home vehicles and cell phones, so they can respond if something like this happens.”
Shepherd said that means trusting an officer’s judgment — something the office does every time they pull someone over.
“All you have is their judgment and they should be experts at it,” he said.
Jones said the risk is too high. “Why take that chance?” he said.