Law Enforcement

Elias Diggins Tapped as New Denver Sheriff

Elias Diggins will be the next permanent sheriff of Denver.
Elias Diggins will be the next permanent sheriff of Denver. City and County of Denver
Mayor Michael Hancock has chosen Elias Diggins to be Denver's next sheriff. "The new sheriff needs to be someone with deep community experience, knowledge of the department and, let me say with great emphasis, someone who appreciates the power and value of second chances," Hancock said at a July 20 press conference announcing the appointment of Diggins.

Diggins, a career department employee, is taking over an agency that has been without a permanent leader since Patrick Firman stepped down as sheriff in October 2019. Fran Gomez, a longtime law enforcement officer who had limited experience working in a sheriff's department, has been serving as interim sheriff since Firman resigned; Diggins will officially take over on July 27 for Gomez, who will stay on with the city, according to Hancock.

During the press conference, Hancock called the sheriff's position, which is primarily responsible for jail operations, "the most challenging job in the city.” Firman had been brought from a career in corrections in Illinois to fix a challenged department, plagued by embarrassing and costly use-of-force incidents in the city's jails, but such incidents continued under his leadership. He ultimately resigned in 2019 after four years on the job; he, too, is still a city employee.

Denver had been searching for a new sheriff for months. After interviewing finalists, the sheriff selection search committee, which included both Hancock allies and critics, reopened the application process in mid-May.

The choice of Diggins as the new sheriff will please the main deputy sheriff union, which endorsed him early on in the sheriff search. It also means that a homegrown veteran of the department will lead it for the first time in many years. Diggins, a Montbello native who started with the department in 1994, rose in its ranks to become a top leader, even serving as interim sheriff in 2014 and 2015.

The biggest knock on Diggins is that he has a guilty plea for making a false report, a misdemeanor, on his record stemming from a 1996 car crash.

Attempting to get ahead of any opposition, Hancock said during the press conference, "Some people are going to want to expound on the challenges that he has had and some of the regretful moments, but he looked me in the eye and he said to me — and it’s backed up by what I’ve witnessed personally — that he is not the man that he was back then."

Diggins added, "The past is the past, and I have some challenges, but I am ready to move forward and lead this department to where we need to go."

The City of Denver still remains without a fire chief following Eric Tade's resignation from the role earlier this year.

The appointment of Diggins could be the last time that a Denver mayor is able to appoint a sheriff without approval from Denver City Council, which has referred a measure to the November ballot asking for approval power over key mayoral appointees.
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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.