Law Enforcement

Candi CdeBaca Proposing Charter Change to Elect Denver Sheriff

Denver voters might decide whether to make the sheriff an elected official.
Denver voters might decide whether to make the sheriff an elected official. Shutterstock file photo
On Monday, September 30, Denver City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca will introduce a proposed change to the city and county's charter to make the Denver sheriff an elected position rather than a mayoral appointee.

CdeBaca "believes that independently elected officials that are directly accountable to Denver taxpayers are necessary for a fair, inclusive and functional democracy, and will be an equalizer to a strong mayoral form of government where the Sheriff is appointed," Lisa Calderón, the councilwoman's chief of staff, said in a statement to Westword.

CdeBaca will submit the proposal during a city council committee meeting. Even if it's supported by council, the charter change would need approval from voters.

The initiative won't be on this November's ballot, since ballots have to be certified sixty days prior to an election, according to Alton Dillard of the Denver Elections Division. The earliest the initiative could appear on the ballot is November 2020.

Denver County is one of only two in Colorado that doesn't elect its sheriff, who is appointed by the mayor and can serve for an indefinite amount of time.

Mayor Michael Hancock recently named Frances Gomez as interim sheriff, the first woman to head the department. The career law enforcement officer, who has served in Denver and surrounding cities, will be sworn in as sheriff on October 14, replacing Patrick Firman, a Hancock appointee who had served since 2015 before resigning earlier this month.

Firman's tenure as head of jails was fraught with controversy, beginning with the death of Michael Lee Marshall, a mentally ill homeless man who died in custody after deputies tried to restrain him. In March 2018, the Office of the Independent Monitor penned a scathing report about how the sheriff's department mishandled the situation.

This past August, a former inmate named Diana Sanchez sued Denver after giving birth unassisted in one of the city's jails in 2018. And in early September, city council approved a $1.55 million settlement for fifteen female sheriff's deputies who alleged that they had experienced workplace sexual harassment.

Hancock spokesperson Theresa Marchetta declined to comment on CdeBaca's proposal. "We don't comment on proposals we haven't seen — and if it is a charter change, it's all council," she wrote Westword.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.

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