Updated: May 13, 2014 at 11:15 am
Three El Paso County Sheriff's Office commanders were put on administrative leave Monday, reportedly after filing an employment complaint against Sheriff Terry Maketa, according to sources in the department.
The three commanders — Mitch Lincoln, who is in charge of detentions; Rodney Gehrett, who oversees Professional Standards; and Rob King, who heads up the patrol division — were escorted out of the office Monday afternoon, according to three sources in the Sheriff's Office.
The sources told The Gazette the commanders' suspensions were in response to a complaint they made with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the sheriff. The sources did not know the specifics of the complaint.
Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Jeff Kramer confirmed that while three people had been placed on administrative leave, it was not as a result of an EEOC complaint.
The moves Monday come two days after a Sheriff's Office statement vowed to hold two commanders accountable for talking anonymously with The Gazette, calling them "a cancer."
The Gazette story published Saturday detailed how some unnamed, top-ranking commanders had felt pressured to nominate Sheriff Maketa for the One Hundred Club award, a prestigious honor presented annually to first responders who go above and beyond the call of duty. 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.
El Paso County spokesman Dave Rose said Monday that the El Paso County Commission would get a legal briefing Tuesday about the matter during an executive session with the county attorney.
According to El Paso County Commissioner Peggy Littleton, the complaint was outlined in a confidential, internal memorandum sent from three sheriff's commanders to Sheriff Maketa and several county commissioners. Littleton said she could not say more about the email because of the confidential nature of the communication.
In an emailed statement, Rose also said additional details would not be provided. "Because this could be a matter for possible future litigation, and because it involves potential personnel matters, no further specifics or additional comments can be released at this time," he said.
The Sheriff's Office, in its online response to the story, lambasted the commanders for talking with The Gazette.
"Calling The Gazette each time they disagree is completely inappropriate and frankly, immature and will be held accountable for these inappropriate actions," the statement on the website says. "In this case, this time, the Sheriff will hold them accountable. They clearly are not committed to the words which are inscribed on each badge of Honesty, Loyalty, Unity.
"The Sheriff plans to remove these two Commanders from his Command Staff as they are too cowardly and dishonest to remain in positions of leadership. They are a cancer and detrimental to our organizational success."
The statement also defended Maketa's nomination for the One Hundred Club award.
Votes for the award were taken during a command staff meeting.
Kramer, the Sheriff's Office spokesman, 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 the nomination angered some in the Sheriff's Office, who thought others were more deserving. According to documents the Sheriff's Office made available with the response, two deputies were recommended for the award. Undersheriff Paula Presley nominated Maketa for the award.
The sheriff is responsible for submitting the nomination, and 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 recognition, The Gazette reported.
"I think it is crap," one division commander told The Gazette about the award going to Maketa. He 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, a three-term sheriff who cannot run for re-election in November because of term limits, was not available for comment Monday. According to sources, he was vacationing last week. Requests for information about his whereabouts were not answered.
Maketa is expected to be succeeded by Bill Elder, who pulled 65 percent of the more than 1,000 delegates at the El Paso County Republican Assembly in March to get on the ballot.