Douglas County sheriff spars with commissioners on red flag bill

Spurlock calls new resolution extortion; commissioners say they're upholding constitution


Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock walked from the back to the front of a near-silent yet crowded Douglas County Board of Commissioners hearing room on March 12, first to take the podium.

He was there to defend House Bill 19-1177, the Extreme Risk Protection Orders bill commonly called a “red flag bill, during a public hearing in which commissioners were poised to adopt a resolution rebuking the controversial legislation.

Their drafted version, which they ultimately approved, questioned the need for HB 19-1177 with current state law C.R.S. 27-65-127 in place and declared the county would only fund the enforcement of constitutional laws. A resolution summary said the bill lacked due process.

Spurlock in his comments urged commissioners to wait and consider amendments to the bill. He said he was actively working with state legislators to bring some forward and planned to meet with senate leadership the following morning. He later told reporters the county's resolution was premature, poorly worded and a badly thought-out political move.

“Essentially what they're trying to do is extort me,” he said. “I encouraged them the other day not to do this, but they went along with it.”

The bill has spurred an emotional debate, including in public comment at the March 12 board meeting, in which some say the bill will improve public safety while others say it violates Second Amendment rights.

The bill was introduced in the state House on Feb. 14 and was given final approval there March 4. It was scheduled to go before the Senate State, Veterans, & Military Affairs committee on March 15.

If signed into law, it would allow family, household members or law enforcement to petition a judge to take guns from an individual they argue is a “significant risk” to themselves or others.

If granted, the initial protection order lasts up to 14 days. A second hearing would then be held to determine if the extreme risk protection order should continue. An attorney would be appointed to the gunowner for this hearing.

If the court finds under a higher standard a person is a significant risk to themselves or others, the judge could bar them from possessing, controlling, purchasing or receiving a firearm for 364 days.

A flurry of Colorado sheriffs and local governments, nearly 20, recently adopted so called Second Amendment Sanctuary policies, including neighboring El Paso County earlier that same day, but Douglas County commissioners said their resolution is more nuanced.

They said they were not declaring Douglas County a Second Amendment sanctuary. Commissioners also stated they would only withhold funding from the sheriff's office if the bill is signed into law and a court finds it unconstitutional.

Still, the resolution puts the commissioners at odds with their own sheriff. Spurlock has advocated in favor of two red flag bills, the first introduced during the 2018 session — which was voted down — and the second one now under consideration. He served as a consultant to the House and Senate as it was drafted.

His support followed the death of Deputy Zackari Parrish in a 2017 shooting that also injured six other people. Parrish was killed while trying to place a man he believed was experiencing a manic episode on a mental health hold.

District 1 Commissioner Abe Laydon said commissioners did not take the resolution lightly “nor did we jump on a bandwagon.” They wanted to communicate a message — that the county is “a safe, constitutional county.”

“(Spurlock) is a great friend and he knows I disagree,” said District 2 Commissioner Roger Partridge.

Public comment was limited to three minutes per person and was roughly split between people who support the red flag bill and those who do not. About 40 people testified.

People in favor of the commissioners' resolution said the bill as it stands now is unconstitutional and violates due process. Some called it "gun-grab" policy with unintended consequences.

Others said a petitioner could simply lie to a judge, that a defendant could be wrongly accused and still have their guns taken for the 14-day period. More lamented that the initial hearing could be held without the accused present.

Board of commissioners Chairwoman Lora Thomas, who served for 26 years with the Colorado State Patrol, said she was a victim of domestic violence years ago and credits her access to a gun for her safety during that time. She's uncomfortable with a law that allows people's guns be taken based on claims, she said.

Opponents to the resolution said it was not the job of county commissioners to determine if a law is constitutional. They asked what legal liabilities the county could face with this resolution in place if HB 19-1177 passes or said the commissioners' resolution was premature with the bill not yet a law.

Others said the bill could increase public safety and save lives. Some spoke from personal experiences with gun violence and said they wished they had a similar law in place to intervene with loved ones who used guns to carry out a suicide.

Spurlock fiercely disputed the notion the bill does not allow for due process. He also called the practice of holding the initial hearing without an accused individual a regular process in the judicial system. He used arrest warrants as an example — when an officer requests a warrant from the court they don't bring the suspect with them.

“You get an opportunity when the arrest warrant is served,” he said.

When it comes to amendments, he'd like to see three key changes, he said. First, he believes the burden of proof should be on the petitioner, not the accused. The level of determination should be “clear and convincing.” Lastly, if someone is found to be an extreme risk and a restraining order is issued, the state needs to get them into treatment.

About 380 people have liked a Facebook page dubbed “Recall Sheriff Tony Spurlock” created in response to his position on the red flag bill.

And Highlands Ranch-based attorney Robert Wareham has formed a recall committee he says is ready to pursue recalling Spurlock once they're able. 

By law Wareham said they can't circulate recall petitions before Spurlock has served in office for six months, which falls in July. Between now and then the group is raising money for the campaign. He hopes to reach $500,000.  They'll need that much, he said, to hire professional signature gatheres to collect the 33,000 signatures they would need. 

"The sheriff can stop that process anytime by coming to his senses," Wareham said, explaining he hopes Spurlock withdraws his support of the red flag bill. 

Spurlock said he's not concerned about a recall effort, calling those individuals “the very noisy minority,” adding he receives thousands of emails, calls and texts from people who support him.

“I do not have any regrets,” Spurlock said, ”because this is the right thing.”


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