In a One-Cop Town, Who Polices the Police?

In a One-Cop Town, Who Polices the Police?
Jason Goad

On the morning of July 5, 2013, Jeanie Cardona left her home in Log Lane Village and drove into the neighboring city of Fort Morgan. She was there to toss copies of the Fort Morgan Times on porches and stoops.

She had no inkling that her own name and picture would soon be in the paper, linked to a serious crime — a ritual of public humiliation she’d never imagined going through.

Newspaper delivery was not Cardona’s regular job; she was filling in for a friend who was on vacation. She worked at a Goodwill, sorting donations, and also served as a member of the governing board of trustees of Log Lane Village, a hamlet of fewer than a thousand people located eighty miles northeast of Denver. Being a town trustee paid a grand total of $35 a month. Like most forms of public service, it was largely a thankless task, but Cardona, who grew up in the Fort Morgan area and had lived in Log Lane for 25 years, figured she should do her part to help fix the crumbling streets, stray-dog problems and other small-town woes.

She wasn’t far in her paper route when she realized that she had attracted a police escort. There were a couple of deputies from the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, a female deputy from the Log Lane marshal’s office, and Fred Cook, the marshal himself, who preferred his own unmarked Chevrolet Tahoe to a patrol car. One of the sheriff’s deputies approached her and informed her that she was under arrest for “aiding in escape,” a felony. He then proceeded to handcuff her.

Cardona felt like she’d just plunged into a bad dream, something that couldn’t actually be happening. She’d never been accused of a crime before, let alone one that could send her to prison. But she knew better than to resist or protest. She kept her eyes trained on the man getting out of the Tahoe.

“What’s going on, Fred?” she asked.

Cook shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “I just gave the district attorney the information. It was up to the DA.”

Two weeks before her arrest, Cardona had met with Cook at the Log Lane police station at his request. The marshal had asked her what she knew about the whereabouts of her ex-husband’s brother when he was briefly a fugitive six months earlier. The questions were a bit meandering and confusing — Cook had even remarked, “I don’t think this will have a bearing on anything” — and the entire interview had lasted only nine minutes. Cardona hadn’t given it much thought since. “If I’d had something to hide, I would have demanded an attorney,” she says now.

But Cook’s version of that conversation, as detailed in his affidavit for an arrest warrant, had become the basis for filing charges against Cardona. She was taken to the sheriff’s office, booked, and jailed overnight, with two cellmates and a sack lunch for company. She posted bail the next day. The case dragged on for another seven months before it was dismissed — in part because prosecutors had discovered discrepancies between what Cook’s affidavit claimed that Cardona had told him and what Cardona had actually said in their recorded interview.

Cardona is now suing the marshal — and, by extension, the town of Log Lane Village — in federal court. Her complaint alleges that Cook had a vendetta against her because as a trustee she’d opposed him on budget issues and criticized his performance; and that her arrest wasn’t a mistake, but a deliberate act of retaliation by Cook, who falsified his affidavit to make it appear that she had knowingly harbored a fugitive. The lawsuit, which is currently awaiting a ruling from U.S. District Senior Judge Richard Matsch on Cook’s motion for summary judgment, has dredged up a chronic history of law enforcement issues in Log Lane, which has had difficulty hiring and retaining qualified officers. It’s also cast light on several troubling incidents in the police work of Fred Cook, who took over as marshal in 2012 after a career that included jobs at ten other Colorado cop shops over a period of thirty years — some of which lasted only a few months before an abrupt exit.

Cook is no longer the marshal of Log Lane. After serving a ten-day suspension over the Cardona arrest, he accepted a severance package and resigned last summer, complaining that the job had “sucked the life out of me.” His successor, Darin Sagel, is a former Fort Morgan police chief who’s received highly positive reviews. “I think the person they have now is exceptionally professional,” says Fort Morgan attorney Paul Wiese, a former prosecutor. “But it’s taken a long time for that to happen in Log Lane.”

Through his attorney, Cook declined a request for an interview because of the ongoing litigation. Court documents filed on his behalf deny that there is any evidence of a vendetta or hidden motive for Cardona’s arrest. The motion for summary judgment contends that Cardona has made several conflicting statements regarding what she knew about her ex-brother-in-law’s activities and when she knew it, and that her initial statements to the marshal were incriminating enough to justify her arrest.

In many Colorado small towns, particularly on the eastern plains, the police jobs typically involve long hours and low pay. Several agencies are basically one- or two-person operations. Such jobs tend to attract minimally trained rookies or problem officers who are no longer welcome at larger departments. Stress, conflicts of interest and citizen complaints about badge-happy bullies are common. And sometimes, as in the case of Log Lane Village, a series of local law enforcement follies can produce a legacy of trauma and distrust that can take years to overcome.

Shortly after her arrest, Jeanie Cardona was shopping at the Safeway in Fort Morgan when a friend called her cell phone. Look in the newspaper, her friend said. You’re on the front page.

“I left everything in the cart and went home,” Cardona recalls. “If I could have bought all the papers in Fort Morgan, I would have.”

For most of his tenure as marshal, Cook was the only full-time lawman in Log Lane Village, population 873.
For most of his tenure as marshal, Cook was the only full-time lawman in Log Lane Village, population 873.
Anthony Camera

According to longtime residents, Log Lane Village may never have been created at all if it hadn’t been for the abstemiousness of Fort Morgan’s civic leaders. Back in the 1950s, a local entrepreneur wanted to open a liquor store, but Fort Morgan was a dry town. A man named Wayne Hayes had forty acres outside the city limits and access to building materials. He built the liquor store and 29 more log houses and dubbed the place Log Lane Village. The original building code required that all new homes be built of logs, too.

Many of those log homes still stand in the village, but most of them are now covered with siding. For several years, the liquor store was the chief source of sales taxes for the town, and vice remains an important part of its revenue stream — though the real moneymaker these days is marijuana. In 2014, Jeanie Cardona was one of the trustees who approved issuing licenses for weed sales by a 5-2 vote; Log Lane has since issued three medical and three recreational marijuana licenses, including one of each for a dispensary that also operates as a gas station — all less than two miles from pot-free Fort Morgan.

The town went from a population of 329 in 1970 to 709 in 1980 to just over a thousand at its peak, in 2000. Cardona moved there with her husband in 1978, when it was still primarily a place to put down roots and raise a family rather than an affordable stop on the way to somewhere else.

“When I first moved here, it was great,” she recalls. “The kids would be out playing in the yard, and all the neighbors had kids. Now I don’t know my neighbors.”

As the population increased, so did the need for local police. The first marshals were one-man shows; by the 1990s, the budget allowed for at least part-time deputies to provide some relief. The first local lawman to leave a strong impression was Larry Mueller, who joined the fledgling force in 1996 and retired as its chief eleven years later.

Log Lane Larry, as he was known, was a popular but polarizing figure. Some found him abrasive but believed he had the town’s best interests at heart. Others thought he routinely exceeded his authority; at one point, he allegedly handcuffed the town clerk to a wall fixture for 45 minutes because he was “tired of her mouth.”

Retired public defender J. Brandeis Sperandeo remembers one encounter with Mueller (who insisted on being called “Chief”) that involved a dubious arrest, an unconstitutional search and a missing snake. “After twenty years as a public defender, you can smell a rat immediately if there’s something amiss in a police report,” Sperandeo observes. “This report stank from the get-go. It was fatally flawed, so bad that the district attorney ended up dismissing the case.”

But Sperandeo’s client didn’t just want the charges dropped. She also wanted her snake returned. A three-foot “designer snake” — Sperandeo isn’t sure if it was a python or a boa — had vanished in the course of the arrest. “It turned out it was at the chief’s house,” Sperandeo says. “I had to broker the snake retrieval. I actually went into his rec room and got her damn snake back.”

Log Lane Larry’s authority problems intensified after he took on the role of town administrator as well as marshal, leading to complaints that Mueller was threatening people with arrest if they didn’t pay their utility bills. At the time of his retirement, he was facing charges for detaining a woman for having an overdue water bill; he’d reportedly summoned her to the station by telling her he would have her deported and her children turned over to the state if she didn’t pay up. In a 2008 trial, he was found guilty of false imprisonment and received a fine and probation.

Mueller went on to a successful career as an investigator for a Fort Morgan law firm. According to his obituary, he “unexpectedly passed” at the age of 53 on January 15, 2015 — two days after a warrant was issued for his arrest on charges of sexual assault on a child.

Several marshals followed in Mueller’s wake, none lasting more than a few months before they found better-paying work elsewhere or were terminated by the trustees for reasons never made public. In 2010, Edwin Irizarry-Urrutia, an Army veteran and former security guard in his mid-thirties, took the job. “Izzy,” as everybody called him, soon acquired a reputation among the young ladies of Log Lane as a shameless flirt. But some residents found him slow to respond to mundane situations and all too eager to escalate others.

Cardona remembers one terrifying encounter with Izzy in her own house. He was responding to a complaint about a party at the house that had ended well before he arrived. Cardona’s 22-year-old daughter Sara responded to his knock, saw a dimly lit figure outside, and attempted to close the door, calling out for her mother. The marshal forced his way in, used his taser on Sara — twice — and then arrested her.

“He didn’t announce himself before he came in the door,” Sara Cardona says. “He said I caused him bodily harm, but he’s double my size. I was screaming for my mom, and that’s when I got tased. One of the prongs didn’t stick, so he tased me again.”

Jeanie Cardona came to the foyer to find her daughter on the floor. “He said, ‘Get back, or I’ll tase you, too,’” she says.

The charges in the case were dropped after Irizarry-Urrutia ended up accused of sexual assault, the result of a boozy evening with two women at his house. One of the women complained to Fort Morgan police the next morning that she was too drunk to resist. Irizarry-Urrutia resigned as marshal and eventually pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count of non-consensual sexual contact. He received sixty days in jail and had to register as a sex offender.

Attorney Wiese suggests that places like Log Lane are at a serious disadvantage when trying to hire law enforcement professionals. They don’t have the funds to compete with the salaries and benefit packages of larger agencies, and they don’t always have access to pertinent information about the people they hire; agencies that let a bad apple quietly resign aren’t always forthcoming about the reasons, out of concern about possible lawsuits. A 2015 Denver Post report on police misconduct in rural Colorado found several instances of “rogue cops” being fired from one department after another, only to resurface somewhere else.

“A lot of them bounce back and forth between small towns out there, as well as the correctional facilities,” Sperandeo says. “The pay is abysmal. They’ll be waiting for a job in Fort Morgan and working at the prison in Sterling or Limon.”

Log Lane officials may have been fooling themselves about what kind of marshal they could hire for around $30,000 a year. But after Izzy’s ignominious departure, they thought they’d found their man — a seasoned, sixty-year-old lawman with a clean record, a regular Andy Taylor. His name was Fred Cook, and he even came with his own police dog, a German shepherd named Opie.

But there were certain details about Cook’s prior work that the town trustees didn’t know when they hired him. They knew that he had worked at many other agencies, but they weren’t aware of the multiple, conflicting and nuanced accounts about why he’d left each one. Cook’s version usually had to do with local politics, a management style he didn’t care for, that kind of thing.

He had started out as an El Paso County Sheriff’s deputy in the early 1970s, then gone into the trucking business for eight years. He worked at the Weld County Sheriff’s Office in the early 1980s, then the Platteville Police Department. Laid off from Platteville, he moved on to the Dacono PD, only to be fired because, he says, his chief didn’t approve of him joining in a chase of a suspect at another agency’s request.

In the early 1990s, he was a patrol deputy in Gilpin County, until he was terminated in a dispute concerning overtime hours. He then turned up in Lochbuie, where he was terminated again, this time because (as he later put it in a deposition) “the chief wanted me to lie for him and the mayor about something and I wouldn’t do it.”

In 1998 he resigned as the police chief in Eads, a small town a half-hour’s drive from the Kansas border, amid accusations that he yelled at motorists, ticketed people without justification and ignored the town trustees. Cook said it was a “political termination” that resulted from his decision to inform officials of the local district attorney’s drinking problem. (A lawsuit filed by an investigator in the DA’s office, who accused the DA of sexually assaulting his wife, also alleged that the DA wanted Cook removed from office.)

From Eads he went to Wiggins, until he had a disagreement with the chief about proper procedure. He served as a deputy in Sedgwick County, then ran for sheriff as a write-in candidate and lost. The Brush Police Department held his interest for a few months, but he didn’t care for the management style, and the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office was hiring. He stayed on there for five years, until the agency disciplined him for failing to report an incident in which he and his wife had been cited for allegedly assaulting each other twenty years earlier. (The domestic case was later dismissed.) Cook resigned and accepted the marshal’s job in Log Lane.

The trustees who hired him didn’t know about many of the allegations concerning Cook’s conduct that would later emerge in court documents. According to the complaint in Cardona’s lawsuit, when Cook ran for sheriff in Sedgwick County a decade earlier, two officers who worked with him had written letters to the local newspaper urging his defeat. They claimed he’d ordered his dog to bite prone and helpless detainees, that he’d been known to duct-tape the mouths of rebellious female suspects.

The trustees didn’t know that in 1994, Cook had taken down and cuffed the Hudson fire chief during an emergency call, arresting him for allegedly interfering with police. They didn’t know he’d been accused of excessive force by Boulder deputies for hog-tying a drunk woman, then allegedly picking her up “like a piece of luggage” and putting her in the back of his patrol car.

In a deposition last year in the Cardona lawsuit, Cook pointed out that the excessive-force complaint was determined to be unfounded. He denied treating a hobbled female like luggage. He denied ordering his dog to attack helpless suspects. He admitted duct-taping the mouth of one woman who was spitting at him. He admitted (shades of Log Lane Larry) that he had once arrested someone for failing to pay 25 cents on a gas bill. And he insisted the fire chief’s arrest was a righteous bust.

Former Log Lane Village marshal Fred Cook complained about working as much as 160 hours in two weeks.
Former Log Lane Village marshal Fred Cook complained about working as much as 160 hours in two weeks.
Fort Morgan Times

Jeanie Cardona joined Log Lane’s board of trustees shortly after Cook was hired. An elected member had stepped down, and others urged Cardona to accept an appointment to fill the vacancy. She went to board meetings anyway and often put her two cents in, they pointed out, so why shouldn’t she get paid for it?

Cardona soon discovered that the seven-member board seemed to be neatly divided into two factions. She and three others consistently leaned one way on a number of local issues, while the other three took the other side. Although her group was the majority, Cardona thought of them as the outsiders; the others seemed firmly allied with the mayor and the town’s few employees, including the marshal and the town clerk. “They all sat together,” she recalls. “They would have coffee together. They stuck up for each other.”

After her experience with Izzy, Cardona was relieved to hear that the town had hired a more experienced marshal. But soon she and a few other boardmembers began to wonder if Cook was a bit too low-key. When Cardona was involved in a fender bender outside a local convenience store, it took Cook thirty minutes to respond, she says — even though he lived only a couple of blocks from the accident scene.

“You could never find him,” she says. The town had an informal “mutual aid” agreement with the county and Fort Morgan, and Cook frequently joined in other agencies’ cases with his drug dog, Opie. “He was in Fort Morgan and Brush. He wanted to be doing the exciting stuff, not sitting on a hill in Log Lane, catching speeders.”

Delores Jimenez, one of Cardona’s allies on the board, also questioned why Cook seemed to be spending so much time elsewhere when Log Lane was paying him to serve and protect the town. She says she asked the Fort Morgan police chief if his agency had requested Cook’s aid — and was told that Cook was showing up at scenes on his own. According to a report in the Fort Morgan Times, Cook defended himself at one public meeting by explaining that his sleuthing on drugs and vandalism investigations often required hush-hush night work: “If I’m doing my job right, you shouldn’t really see me.”

Jimenez and other Cook critics were also irked by his insistence on using his personal vehicle for work, without any emblems identifying it as a police car. Jimenez says that Cook billed the town for maintenance work on the Tahoe, such as new tires and oil changes, and that he also took Opie to Greeley to get groomed and sought reimbursement from the trustees.

But Cook had ardent supporters in town, too. His fan club grew after his quick response to a particularly harrowing incident on New Year’s Eve, 2012, involving the kidnapping and assault of a local woman by her ex-boyfriend, Enrique Cardona.

Enrique was Jeanie Cardona’s former brother-in-law. She hadn’t seen much of him since divorcing her husband in 2005; Enrique had been in and out of prison, battled drug problems, and was known to become obsessive about women who broke up with him. On two occasions in December 2012, a halfway house in Sterling reported Enrique as missing, only to call off the alert after he reappeared. On Christmas Eve he ran away again. That same day, his ex-girlfriend, April Heitschmidt, reported an attempted break-in at her home in Log Lane Village. Cook made contact with several of the suspect’s relatives, including Jeanie Cardona, and advised them that he was believed to be in the area.

A week later, Heitschmidt was accosted by Enrique as she left her house in the morning. Armed with a box cutter, he forced her into her car and told her to drive him to Denver. Secretly, Heitschmidt was able to place a 911 call on her cell phone and leave the line open. A dispatcher notified Cook and other area officers, who soon learned that Heitschmidt’s car had been spotted at a gas station in Wiggins. When the car was pulled over on a county road, Enrique slashed at Heitschmidt’s throat and his own. A Wiggins police officer arrested Enrique; Cook made it to the scene in time to administer first aid to Heitschmidt before paramedics arrived. She told the marshal that her ex had threatened her repeatedly, telling her that if he couldn’t have her, nobody could.

Facing charges for assault, stalking and menacing, Enrique pleaded guilty to a single count of kidnapping and was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.

Most of Cook’s cases weren’t quite so dramatic. They were, however, incredibly time-consuming. He complained of working eighteen or twenty hours without a break, of sometimes putting in 160 hours in two weeks. Even the occasional presence of deputies, who never seemed to last long, didn’t lighten the load. In May 2013, he informed the town board that he was owed $13,000 for 728 hours of unpaid overtime accrued over the past sixteen months.

The request made for a lively board meeting. Jimenez and Jeanie Cardona say they sharply questioned Cook’s calculations and took him to task for failing to keep written logs of his activities. (In court filings, Cook’s attorney disputes this, saying that the minutes reflect that Cardona “in fact never criticized Marshal Cook’s employment at a Town Board meeting, nor did she vote on a motion to terminate him, which in fact never took place.”) Other boardmembers leapt to his defense. Two members of the public had to be removed when it appeared the argument was about to get physical. The board voted 4-3 to deny the overtime-compensation request, a vote that split neatly between outsiders and insiders.

Cardona didn’t regard the vote as a personal matter; she also had issues with the performance of the town clerk and the town’s maintenance man. So she was startled when Cook approached her shortly before the next month’s board meeting, knocking on the window of her car. “I think I’m going to get fired,” he grumbled. “I’m going to clean out my Tahoe.”

Cook wasn’t fired. His overtime request was eventually approved. But it wasn’t long after that encounter, Cardona says, that Cook asked her to come to his office for an interview. He’d been listening to recordings of phone calls that Enrique had made from the jail after his arrest, conversations that touched on where he’d holed up after leaving the halfway house, and he had a few questions for her.

Seventeen days after that interview, Cardona herself was in jail. In his sworn affidavit to obtain a warrant for her arrest, Cook stated that she’d told him she allowed Enrique into her house during Christmas week, while he was an escapee from the halfway house, and “gave him food and shelter to warm himself.” Furthermore, Cardona had admitted that “she knew Enrique was on the run at the time he was at the house.” Cardona’s granddaughter, who had gone with her to the interview, also acknowledged letting the fugitive into the house “to eat and shower.”

All of those admissions seemed damning enough to the judge who signed the arrest warrant. But none of them can be found in the actual statements Cardona made to Cook in the interview, which was recorded and later transcribed. She said that Enrique had dropped by some time earlier in December — the exact date wasn’t clear — and used the phone. She couldn’t recall seeing him again until after Cook had informed her on Christmas Eve that he was a fugitive. Enrique had come by shortly afterward, she said, but she had refused to let him in her house, telling him, “If something happens, I don’t want my kids in the middle of it.”

As for Cardona’s granddaughter, she told Cook that she let Enrique in once to use the phone, not the shower — an event that apparently occurred well before Christmas.

Cook’s affidavit omitted these crucial details. The document, and Cardona’s subsequent arrest, suggested that she’d harbored a dangerous felon for days leading up to the kidnapping. People wondered why, if she wasn’t in cahoots with Enrique, she hadn’t notified authorities when he showed up the second time. (“I thought if I called the cops, he would know it was me — and I didn’t want anything to do with that,” Cardona says now. “I just wanted him off my property. I wanted my kids safe.”)

In the weeks after her arrest, Cardona lost thirty pounds. She never felt hungry, just numb, like she didn’t have a stomach. People disrespected her, joked about her being a jailbird. The prosecutor pressed her to plead guilty to a lesser felony, hinting at dire consequences if she didn’t.

“I said, ‘No, I didn’t do anything wrong,’” she says. “‘I’m going to fight this all the way. If the jury decides I’m guilty, then I’m ready to go to prison. This is America, where you fight for your freedom.’”

Delores Jimenez was one of the town trustees who questioned how much of Cook’s time was spent aiding other police agencies.
Delores Jimenez was one of the town trustees who questioned how much of Cook’s time was spent aiding other police agencies.
Anthony Camera

Town board meetings took a strange turn after Jeanie Cardona’s arrest. Some citizens accused the outsiders of a secret campaign to get rid of the town clerk and the marshal. But the outsiders felt like they were the ones with big targets on their backs, that certain people wanted them gone to protect their own jobs and interests.

Two months after the arrest, Marshal Cook showed up at a board meeting with a fat file of paperwork indicating that trustee Roy Nipper, one of the outsiders, was the subject of a ten-year-old arrest warrant for a drug case in Utah. Cook announced that it wasn’t an extraditable offense, or he would have arrested Nipper on the spot. Nipper, an appointee who’d been on the board for less than a year, first insisted that the case had been resolved, then resigned from the board.

Cook was one of four applicants who applied to replace Nipper on the board. On the other candidates, the remaining trustees deadlocked, voting 3-3. Cook was appointed on a 3-2 vote, with Cardona recusing herself because of her still-pending felony case; she didn’t want anyone to say that she had voted against Cook because he’d arrested her. But Cook’s presence on the board created more awkwardness; technically, Cardona wasn’t even supposed to be in the same room with him because of a restraining order issued against her, forbidding her to contact witnesses in her case. The two sat at opposite ends of the table during board meetings, with Cardona doing her best not to look in his direction.

She wasn’t the only one of the remaining outsiders feeling pressure to step down. “They were digging to see what they could find on all of us,” Jimenez says. “They were after my butt. Very much so.”

Jimenez was convinced that the town clerk was arranging place cards at meetings so that the outsiders couldn’t sit together. She took it upon herself to rearrange the seating at one meeting so she could sit next to Cardona. The next day, she says, she received a summons from a sheriff’s deputy to appear in court on a harassment complaint; another female boardmember claimed that Jimenez had pushed her during the seating controversy.

Jimenez denied any harassment, and the case was eventually dismissed. “If I had done this, the other people in the audience would have seen it,” she says. “I had to sit on pins and needles for seven months. I had to hire a criminal attorney.”

The conflicts between outsiders and insiders, and between supporters of each faction who turned up at meetings, became so intense that the board hired a private security firm to keep the peace.

In January 2014, the charge against Cardona for aiding an escape was formally dismissed. A careful examination of the record of Cook’s interview of her, confusing and brief as the conversation was, indicated that Cook had attributed statements to her about providing Enrique with food and shelter that she hadn’t made. Cook had also stated in his affidavit that his review of Enrique’s phone calls from jail, instigated at the district attorney’s request, had turned up a conversation with a girlfriend in which the kidnapper admitted that he got food and shelter from Jeanie Cardona while he was on the run. The town clerk claimed to have heard the same recording. But no such recording could be located among the hundreds of calls Enrique made from jail, while another phone call contained an emphatic denial by Enrique that his ex-sister-in-law had helped him.

Thirteenth Judicial District Attorney Brittny Lewton ended up issuing what’s known as a “Brady letter” in the matter, a disclosure to defense attorneys that her office “is in possession of statements which may reflect upon Marshal Cook’s credibility as a witness.” The town hired a retired police chief to conduct its own investigation of the Cardona case and ended up suspending Cook without pay for ten days. The suspension, which Cook served last winter, came at the same time as the resignation of one deputy and the firing of another, leaving Log Lane without any local law enforcement for several days.

By that point, the board was a sea of fresh faces. No fewer than eleven candidates ran for six positions in 2014; Cook, Cardona and Jimenez all declared their candidacy, but none retained their seats. Jimenez gave a farewell speech at her last meeting, noting that she had lived in Log Lane as a child, back when “the streets weren’t paved and the trailer court was just weeds.” She told the assembled citizens that it had been an honor to help people.

“You could have heard a pin drop,” she recalls. “It was very hard. They dragged me through the dirt. But then I went to McDonald’s and had me a cheeseburger.”

The new board had its own clashes with town employees and eventually replaced most of them. Cook held on until last summer, but it was clear his days were numbered; the board had even gone to the trouble of designating the marshal’s job to be that of an “at will” employee who could be fired by majority vote. At a meeting in June, he declared that he was done and asked for a buyout. “I can’t do this fighting anymore,” he said, according to an account in the Fort Morgan Times.

The trustees offered him $26,000 in severance pay, and the marshal took it.

Log Lane Village approved marijuana sales in 2014, including a dispensary in a local service station.
Log Lane Village approved marijuana sales in 2014, including a dispensary in a local service station.
Anthony Camera

When Darin Sagel took over as marshal of Log Lane Village last summer, he walked into an office that didn’t contain a single digital camera for documenting evidence. He has since been busily updating the equipment available to him and his two deputies, focusing on gear that might actually get used.

“I didn’t raise my budget at all, but I expended it on what we really need,” Sagel says. “So far, the board has been really supportive.”

The transition from running a police force in a city of 11,000 to small-town marshaling hasn’t been all that difficult, Sagel insists. He has ties to Log Lane, including a grandmother who lived there for years, and the former chief likes being back in the field after years in administration.

“I was pretty well accepted,” he says. “I was at Fort Morgan for 27 years, and a lot of these people I already knew. There was a bit of hesitancy. What I’m trying to change, more than anything, is that people here won’t call law enforcement. They don’t know when to call — put it that way. We’ll get a call about a break-in or vandalism a week or two after it happens instead of right away. The community is very self-sufficient, and I don’t want to take that away from them, but we have a place in that community, too.”

Sagel opposed opening marijuana dispensaries in Log Lane when the issue was being debated three years ago. He says he hasn’t seen any negative impacts from the move in the village itself, though he worries that marijuana use is becoming more prevalent among school kids in Fort Morgan. There are, in any case, bigger problems on his plate, including rising instances of heroin overdoses and bad meth in Morgan County.

Finding ways to offer competitive salaries in order to keep good help is important, too, but Sagel also believes that proper screening and boosting training standards can go a long way toward improving the quality of police work in rural Colorado.

“To put it bluntly, whoever gets hired into these positions as management doesn’t know what they don’t know,” he says. “They think they’re doing it right, but they need training and experience to know how to vet officers.”

Cardona’s lawsuit against Fred Cook continues to chug along in federal court, unresolved; according to court records, the town of Log Lane Village offered to pay Cardona $60,000, as well as her attorney’s fees, to settle the matter. She has refused, deeming that to be inadequate compensation for the ordeal she has been through since the day of her arrest.

Other lawsuits and prosecutions stemming from alleged police misconduct on Colorado’s eastern plains aren’t hard to come by. Last fall the family of Jack Jacquez, who was shot in the back and killed in 2014 by a police officer with a history of violence, filed suit against the city of Rocky Ford and its former police chief, claiming the city hired “second-chance cops” with inadequate vetting; the officer in the case, James Ashby, was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to sixteen years in prison.

A few weeks ago, voters in Sedgwick County overwhelmingly recalled Sheriff Tom Hanna, who is accused of sexually assaulting an at-risk inmate. And last month, Otero County officials reached a $150,000 settlement with another woman who was sexually assaulted by a guard in the county jail. The attorney in that case, David Lane, also represents Cardona in her lawsuit against Cook. As Lane sees it, the police abuses in small towns are no surprise, given the combination of low pay and limited supervision.

“You’re not getting the cream of the crop in law enforcement,” he says. “These folks live in such a bubble in their tiny communities — and the cops in these communities believe they’re untouchable. They think they can do whatever they want to do — and they can. As long as they keep the powers-that-be happy, they don’t have to make anyone else happy.”

Cardona says she’s heard positive reports about the new marshal from several people in Log Lane Village. But she also knows people who, if they require a police response, are more likely to call the county sheriff’s office because of past bad experiences with local lawmen. She hopes she doesn’t have to deal with the police in the future, and she isn’t sure what she would do if the need arises.

“I will not call the cops now,” she says, “unless it’s a dire emergency.”


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