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Angley, Sweeney-Maurer aim to unseat Elder as sheriff

June 6, 2018 Updated: June 8, 2018 at 10:50 pm
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During a promotion ceremony, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder speaks to his staff at the headquarters on Thursday, January 1, 2015. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

The El Paso County sheriff's Republican challenger has suggested the agency Bill Elder runs is plagued with scandal and corruption.

Retired Air Force Col. Mike Angley, who has said he sees Elder's record as fair game ahead of the June 26 primary, has made reports of dissatisfaction among his opponent's employees a campaign centerpiece. In a steady stream of dozens of blog posts since last fall, he's accused Elder of failing to institute truly conservative policies and presiding over a workplace culture of cronyism.

But Elder has said that Angley's claims are overblown and untrue, and that he doesn't run his agency anything like his opponent has suggested.

"If he wins, I'll vacuum on my way out," Elder said. "But I'm not going to drag the Sheriff's Office through the mud for a job. The only thing I asked him was to tell the truth."

In the heavily Republican county, a primary win is tantamount to victory in the November general election, when Elder or Angley will face Democratic candidate Grace Sweeney-Maurer, a retired paralegal who was nominated from the floor at the party's county assembly in March.

Angley, a self-described political outsider who worked for more than 25 years as a special agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, has said he's talked to several hundred sheriff's employees who have expressed disappointment in the agency's leadership.

But Elder, who spent more than 20 years working for the Sheriff's Office and Fountain Police Department before his election in 2014, has contended that his agency has an unbiased promotion process that includes input from outside law enforcement agencies.

"We're doing everything we can to provide a safe, comfortable environment for them (employees) to work," he said. "Is it without complaint? No, but there isn't an agency around, especially of this size, that doesn't have it."

Angley has also criticized Elder for what he sees as lax immigration policies and has vowed to bring back a program, known as 287(g), that trains deputies to act as immigration officers.

The Sheriff's Office has said that the program was discontinued in 2015 amid concerns that it led to racial profiling and drained local resources. But Angley called the decision "a big mistake."

Elder has continued his agency's agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to house suspected undocumented immigrants at a daily rate at ICE's request. However, he's temporarily halted his practice of honoring those detainer requests after his office was sued in February by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, which argued that the sheriff illegally held people past their release dates.

Since a state law that took effect in January tightened the plant count requirements for marijuana growers, Elder has touted his agency's progress in stamping out black market operations. He recently announced that the Sheriff's Office has executed 64 warrants over the past five months, seizing more than 5,000 plants. He said he plans to continue the crackdown and work with lawmakers for more stringent marijuana laws.

Angley said his military experience with counter-terrorism and counter-drug operations will help him to work with federal law enforcement to target drug ring leadership instead of individual grows.

With a jail population that hit a record high last year of nearly 1,800 inmates, both Elder and Angley emphasized the need to find solutions to reduce inmate numbers. Their Democratic counterpart, Sweeney-Maurer, said the jail is ill-equipped to house people with mental health problems.

"There has to be a better way to handle that population," said Sweeney-Maurer, who previously worked with the Honolulu Police Department as a training facilitator. "We need to continue to work with mental health agencies, with hospitals and the courts and try to find a solution that's in the community - a community-based solution."

Sweeney-Maurer said she feels that, with her sense of calmness and rationality, she would bring a different perspective to the job.

Through May 31, Elder's campaign had raised nearly $61,000 and spent about $39,000, according to campaign finance records filed with the Secretary of State's Office. Angley had raised about $18,500, loaned his campaign nearly $140,000, and spent about $130,000. Sweeney-Maurer had raised about $800 and spent about $750.

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