By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Camp had brought Tagert, a retired Colorado Springs police chief, on board in September 1990. "Tagert and I talked about it," Camp says now. "I asked him if he wanted to be sheriff, and he said yes, he would. He chose to run on the Democratic ticket, so I'm not sure how I would have supported him, but he's one of the finest men I've ever been associated with, and he would have been a good sheriff."
Shearer says Tagert's arrival may have marked the beginning of his own demise. In September 1992 Camp called Shearer into his office and gave him two options: quit and take a six-week paid leave, or be fired. Shearer chose the first option and now says he thinks he was pushed out the door because his election bid was gaining support in the Democratic party--a development that would have put a serious dent in Camp's plans for Tagert.
Tagert and Camp deny it. "I know that the sheriff had some real concerns about [Shearer's] performance," says Tagert, who insists that Shearer promised never to run against him. "He was not fired for political reasons. I can recall a conversation with the sheriff one time about whether or not politics should ever enter into staff decisions. And he said that it should never, ever enter into it."
Camp says Shearer was forced out because he couldn't do the job. He'd warned him back in July that the jail was in disarray, he says. "I told him, `I'm not sure what else you're doing, but I'm sure it's not in the department's best interest,'" Camp says. "He was out campaigning during working hours. He may deny it, but that's what was happening."
Shearer does, in fact, deny it. "Was I going around doing party business during working hours?" Shearer asks. "No. Was I going around asking people at the jail to support me? Absolutely not. But I was active in the Democratic party, and he knew that."
Tagert's candidacy became a moot point in the spring of 1993. Tagert had accepted a disability pension from the Colorado Springs force, but then state law was changed to prevent officers receiving disability from moving to other departments and continuing to work as active-duty cops. Staying on, Tagert says, "appeared to me to put my pension at risk." He resigned his Adams County post, along with his dreams of being sheriff.
After Tagert left, Camp says it became clear to him that he wouldn't have time to complete some of his pet projects. As a result, he decided to run again himself. "And there's another reason," he adds. "I cannot leave this office in good conscience knowing that someone like Bill Shearer will step in and take over. I think he's totally incompetent to run this department. He will destroy this department."
Infighting isn't the only political tradition at the Adams County Sheriff's office. The department also has a long history of monetary woes.
Surveys show that the starting salary for an Adams County deputy is the lowest among sixteen Front Range sheriff and police departments. Officers achieve parity with their peers only after they rise above the rank of lieutenant. Over the past decade, the low salaries have contributed to a turnover rate of from 13 percent to 29 percent annually.
The 345-person department is also seriously understaffed. Camp estimates that he needs another 66 deputies, fully half of them for the jail. The understaffing is partly due to the high turnover, but it has a lot to do with Adams County's status as a relatively poor county. Property values are low in the area, and the demand for social services is extremely high--the second highest in the state after Denver, according to county commissioner Elaine Valente.
The money, says Valente, simply hasn't been available for beefing up the sheriff's department. "We have tough decisions to make," notes the commissioner. "We have to feed hungry people, take care of the elderly and the handicapped. So we have to balance our priorities. Certainly, law enforcement is one of them, but it's not the only issue in the county."
Budget decisions for 1994 were made even more difficult by the passage of Amendment 1 and a drop in assessed valuations. Commissioners had to cut $6 million and 100 jobs from the bottom line. "We had to bite the bullet," Valente says, "and we chose to do it all in one year."
Through voluntary separations and enhanced retirement programs, only a handful of people were actually handed their pink slips, says Valente. Not one of those positions, she emphasizes, came from the jail--"because we knew we could not cut there."
But last spring, roughly the time of the precinct caucuses, a low rumbling began to be heard from the sheriff's office. Camp had wanted a salary increase for his deputies, but given the economic climate, no one, not even Camp himself, expected him to get it. But an Adams County deputy and FOP official says Camp had an alternate plan--and that he asked the fraternal organization to help carry it out.
"He wanted us to go before the commissioners and ask for money," says the deputy, who asks that his name not be used. "He said we could do anything--picket, go to the media--fine. He said the only rules were that we couldn't badmouth him or the department or break any laws."