Douglas County sheriff stands by support of 'red-flag' bill

Sheriff says it will save lives, others question bill's constitutionality

Posted 3/28/19

Colorado could soon become the 15th state in the nation to adopt a red-flag law. The state Senate on March 28 passed House Bill 19-1177, the Extreme Risk Protection Orders measure, in an 18-17 vote. …

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Douglas County sheriff stands by support of 'red-flag' bill

Sheriff says it will save lives, others question bill's constitutionality

Posted

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock reaffirmed his support for a contentious red-flag bill after the measure narrowly passed the state Senate, putting Colorado on the cusp of becoming the 15th state in the nation to adopt such a law.

“I believe at the core that this will save lives,” Spurlock said. “I'm happy it passed. We can now move forward and hopefully we can work together.”

The Senate on March 28 passed House Bill 19-1177, the Extreme Risk Protection Orders measure, in an 18-17 vote. The bill now heads back to the House so amendments can be considered. It first passed the House in a 35-25 vote.

Legislators' opinions of the measure have mostly been along party lines, with Democrats generally being in favor and Republicans typically opposed.

But Spurlock, a Republican, has found himself at odds on this issue with many of Douglas County's GOP leaders.

Each of Douglas County's state senators and representatives — all Republicans — voted against the bill. County commissioners, also all Republicans, have opposed the measure, adopting a resolution rebuking ERPO, questioning its constitutionality and its due process. Numerous counties in the state have adopted "Second Amendment Sanctuary" positions, though Douglas County stopped short of making that proclamation.

“We are disappointed that the Red Flag bill passed the Senate this afternoon without a strategy for addressing the mental health concerns raised by so many, or the constitutional questions raised by numerous counties, including Douglas County, throughout the state,” Chairwoman Lora Thomas said in a joint statement from the board.

Senate sponsors Lois Court, D-Denver, and Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood called the bill a commonsense approach to gun safety and a good move for increasing public safety. They released statements following the vote.

“Thoughts and prayers don't save lives, but extreme risk protection orders will, and I look forward to seeing it signed into law,” Court said.

Pettersen argued most people in Colorado support the bill.

“We passed this bill and did what is right for our law enforcement, domestic violence survivors, our kids who just want to feel safe when they go to school, and the countless family members who have lost someone to unnecessary gun violence,” she said.

The Extreme Risk Protection Orders bill, or ERPO, would allow law enforcement, family or household members to petition a judge to remove guns from someone they believe is a significant risk to themselves or others. The initial protection order could be granted at a hearing without the owner present and last up to 14 days. At a later hearing, the judge could order removal of their guns for up to 364 days.

The bill is named for fallen Douglas County Sheriff's Office Deputy Zackari Parrish, who died on Dec. 31, 2017 when a reportedly mentally-ill gunman shot him and six other people. Parrish was among five officers attempting to place the suspect, Matthew Riehl, on a mental health hold when the shooting began.

Although it's not the only incident to spur his support, Spurlock said Parrish's death is a significant reason he believes in red-flag laws. If one had been in place prior to the New Year's Eve shooting, law enforcement or Riehl's family may have been able to intervene and possibly prevent the shooting, Spurlock said.

Spurlock said he's confident the bill will be signed into law if it arrives on Gov. Jared Polis' desk, but that the work would only begin there. The judicial branch would then begin to form policy around carrying out the law.

Spurlock has received both praise and backlash for his support of the bill.

The sheriff, after leaving a March 28 meeting with commissioners for matters unrelated to the bill, said he and the board have differing opinions on H.B. 19-1177 but were still working together well.

A group has vowed to pursue a recall of Spurlock for his support of the bill.

A spokesman for the recall committee, attorney Robert Wareham, said he was disappointed in the Senate's March 28 vote. He believes the law is likely to be abused, used as a revenge tool or other method of taking someone's guns without sufficient cause or enough evidence they are a significant risk.

“I know that many people in Douglas County pleaded with the sheriff in the last 24 hours to withdraw his support of the bill,” Wareham said.

Wareham says he is a former supporter of Spurlock's who has voted for him twice. He now calls a recall attempt — which can't begin until Spurlock has been in office for his current term, his second one, for at least six months — “a top priority.”

Spurlock said he doesn't believe a recall will be successful and that the majority of his constituents support him. He also said a recall could backfire on his own party.

“I fear that kind of behavior is only going to harm the Republicans in Douglas County and the ability to remain being a Republican county,” Spurlock said.

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