The Siege

Page 10 of 10

"There is a positive side to this kind of surveillance," says one. "There's less public drinking, and people don't drink and drive, so maybe they are saving lives. But it seems like we went from one extreme to the other. People are not coming to town like they used to."

Other businesspeople stress that their concerns aren't just about the alcohol crackdown, which is reminiscent of what happened in Colorado's ski towns twenty years ago as they became gentrified. They say they are tired of the oppressive atmosphere, tired of the sheriff badmouthing what is essentially a proud, peaceful and vibrant community.

"The people doing the recall have nothing against John," says another business owner. "They want him to be responsible for his deputies. It's the good people who are complaining. I don't think he gets it."

Mestas says he's had occasion to reprimand a deputy or two, but not to the point of loss of pay or any other tangible discipline. He insists he is ready and eager to investigate any complaints against his staff. True, he hasn't sought out his critics to determine if their concerns have any merit: "To be honest, I don't think anybody has talked to these people," he says. True, he stands by his deputies "until proven otherwise."

True, there seems to be a crying lack of respect, a seething contempt -- not so much fear as loathing -- for his officers right now, but he doesn't see that as the problem some people have made it out to be.

"This door is always open," he says. "I feel strongly that this community needs to be in touch with the sheriff."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast