May 9, 2014 Updated: May 10, 2014 at 7:50 am
Every year, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office nominates one of its own for the One Hundred Club, a prestigious recognition for first responders who go above and beyond the call of duty.
This year, the chain of command recommended a few hard-working deputies who showed innovation and grit.
Instead, Sheriff Terry Maketa picked himself.
The winner gets a gold watch awarded at a Broadmoor gala May 20 that doubles as a fundraiser for the families of fallen first responders. Colorado Springs Police and Fire departments also each pick a winner. This year will mark the first time in the 20-year history of the recognition that a sitting sheriff, police or fire chief receives the award.
The move has angered some in the Sheriff's Office, including some top commanders who said they felt pressured to give the award to their boss when others were more deserving.
"I think it is crap," said one division commander who did not want his name used because he feared losing his job. "This is an award that is supposed to be for line-level guys, not someone behind a desk."
Maketa, who is vacationing, could not be reached for comment.
Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Jeff Kramer said Maketa was the unanimous choice of a vote by the command staff, who wanted to recognize his "long years of service and dedication."
But two commanders in the meeting where Maketa was chosen for the award give a different account.
At a meeting of the command staff in April, heads from each division were prepared to present their nominee so the command staff could vote on the winner.
Before the Sheriff's Office commanders could present their nominees, people at the meeting said, Maketa left the room and Undersheriff Paula Presley said, "It's time to vote for the nominee. I think we should nominate the sheriff."
"There was a long awkward pause," one of the commanders who was in the room recalled. "No one knew quite what to say."
Finally, one staff member said "I concur."
"There was another long awkward pause," the commander said.
The commanders in the meeting looked at each other and at the undersheriff.
Finally, according to the commander, another said, "Why are we even bothering to take a vote? No one is going to vote against him."
Presley responded that no one was being forced to vote a certain way.
There was another awkward pause, then Presley told the commanders to get their votes in to the sheriff's secretary, according to people in the room.
Everyone voted for Maketa.
"I spoke to several others at the meeting," another commander said. "Just about everyone there felt this was inappropriate. But we feel pressured."
Ollie Gray, a retired police officer who received the award in the 1990s, said it might be proper to give the award to the sheriff after he leaves office at the end of this year. Former Colorado Springs Police Chief Lorne Kramer received the award in 2002 after leaving the job. But, Gray said, it should be a decision made by the rank and file.
"This is supposed to start with street-level cops recommending their peers," Gray said. "Then it works its way up the chain of command. If the sheriff or undersheriff comes in and takes over, you are just degrading something that has been very important to the community."