In a surprise development, interim Denver sheriff Fran Gomez has removed her name from consideration for the permanent job.
Mayor Michael Hancock is expected to choose a new sheriff within a month. The Sheriff Selection Committee, which is headed by Murphy Robinson, the interim executive director of the Department of Public Safety, and comprises both supporters and critics of the mayor, will be interviewing finalists next week. But Gomez won't be among them.
"It was a tough decision, and I put if off until the last day the applications were being accepted. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working in this position and working for Mayor Hancock and Executive Director of Safety [Robinson]. But after learning the identity of other sheriff applicants, I believe the Denver Sheriff Department will benefit from having someone who has worked in a sheriff’s department their entire career lead the agency; they understand the business of 'sheriffing' better than I do," says Gomez, who adds that she hopes to continue working with the department.
The city declined to provide the names of finalists, citing privacy concerns.
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"A list of candidates will be forwarded to the mayor for his consideration once the interviews have been conducted," says Kelli Christensen, a spokesperson for the city's Department of Public Safety, which houses the sheriff department. "We don’t anticipate making that list public, as this has been a national search and we want to respect the applicants’ confidentiality with their employers." Christensen did confirm that the city has received applications from employees within the Denver Sheriff Department, as well as other interested people both in Colorado and around the country.
Denver has been without a permanent sheriff since October 2019, when Patrick Firman resigned from the post. Firman, who had been hailed as a change agent prior to the start of his tenure in 2015, never won over the main deputy sheriffs' union. And while the Hancock administration had been hopeful that Firman would fix some of the issues in Denver's jails, expensive lawsuits continued to pile up.
Hancock announced that he was appointing Gomez as the interim sheriff soon after Firman announced his resignation from the sheriff's post; he landed in another city position that is paying him six figures annually. The director of professional standards, Gomez had only been with the department for a little over a year when she took over as interim sheriff. The career law enforcement officer had spent most of her professional life working in the Aurora Police Department, where she was named its first-ever female commander in 2012.
But while Gomez didn't have a lot of experience in a sheriff's department, she was at least an internal candidate. That specific qualification could prove a benefit for other applicants, according to Qusair Mohamedbhai, a local civil-rights attorney serving on the selection committee. "Historically, we have seen that hiring outside has not worked. It takes too long for the rank-and-file to buy in," he says. "It makes them ineffective at handling some of their personnel matters, because they don’t have the buy-in of unions and existing command staff and rank-and-file officers."
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With Gomez out, another possible internal candidate could be Dave Walcher, the former Arapahoe County sheriff who now serves as director of the Denver Sheriff Department's Public Integrity Division. Walcher declined to comment on whether he's applied for the position, but his name has been floated before as a potential choice for Denver sheriff.
Denver is one of just two Colorado counties that doesn't elect its sheriff, but this department's job duties differ from those of many sheriff departments. While sheriffs in other counties are often able to send out deputies on patrol, the Denver Sheriff Department doesn't have that authority and is primarily responsible for managing the city's jails and providing security at courthouses.
The City of Denver is also currently operating without both a permanent fire chief and director of the Department of Public Safety, following the resignations of officials in those roles.
Some Denver City Council members would like to see city council gain approval power of major mayoral appointments, such as the sheriff, fire chief, police chief and safety head. Amanda Sawyer and Candi CdeBaca, the two members pushing the proposal, hope that council will refer it to the November 2020 ballot for a citywide vote.