by Rick Langenberg:
The town of Green Mountain Falls no longer has any law enforcement personnel.
In yet another firestorm regarding the ongoing controversy surrounding the closing of the GMF marshal’s office, Sgt. Susan Barnes, the last remaining officer for the local police agency, officially called it quits last week. Barnes announced her departure at a public meeting, a gesture that ignited much protest from outgoing Trustee Mac Pitrone.
Similar to former Marshal Tim Bradley, who resigned in mid-November, Barnes was extremely critical of several trustees and the status quo administration regarding how her situation was handled and how elected leaders abruptly shut down the marshal’s office. Barnes had been on medical leave, stemming from an on-duty attack in early November that left her with a broken left collarbone, lacerated kidney, cervical sprain, a concussion, rib contusions and multiple cuts and deep facial bruising.
“The recent turmoil and constant volatile government situation has made the environment of my employment with this agency unstable, unhealthy, unsafe and uncomfortable,” said Barnes in her March 18 resignation letter. Barnes had been a familiar face at trustee meetings, even while she was recovering from her injuries. The police sergeant lauded the support and encouragement she has received from the residents of GMF, but noted that, “I cannot continue to be a victim of Green Mountain Falls’ politics. I must move forward to seek full-time employment and stable employment elsewhere.”
In her detailed letter, Barnes outlined her version of the events surrounding her assault by two people, while on duty, and the political bombshell that followed.
Barnes made several strong allegations against town leaders and the current administration including, forcing Bradley to resign and trying to secretly shut down the marshal’s office; putting her into the bad position of maintaining files for pending cases for an office that may have been illegally closed; encouraging Barnes to stay away from the town (until her medical condition was resolved) and to limit local social contacts, in fear of what she may say about the marshal’s office; refusing to give Barnes information on the status of her employment with the town; not following through in several of the arrests Barnes made prior to her injuries, allowing driving under the influence suspects to get off free and clear; and not leveling with town residents about the level of GMF law enforcement involvement of other outside agencies, such as the Colorado State Patrol.
She also delivered some verbal swings against a few trustees, accusing them of taking a “sexist” attitude regarding her assault incident; and having a reporter from another local newspaper partake in a private employment conference pertaining to her situation, an arrangement she felt uncomfortable about. Barnes also contends she was the victim of harassment by other GMF employees.
In her letter, Barnes didn’t complain about what happened to her physically, which occurred when she tried to pursue two unknown males who threw rocks at her vehicle while she was on-duty. But Barnes said she wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of GMF political nastiness. “Being the victim of this crime is an inherent ‘occupational hazard’ of my job, everything that followed is not,” explained Barnes. “Immediately following this attack the plan of a few board members and the public works director, to do away with the Green Mountain Falls Police Department, went into high gear. Unfortunately, their plan was ill formed, full of lies and misconceptions.”
Her letter is bound to create another bombshell, regardless of the outcome of the April 1 election.
Several veteran leaders, such as Mayor Pro Tem Jane Newberry, who is running for mayor, have stood behind the majority board decision to develop more of an intergovernmental agreement with El Paso County in handling local law enforcement. They have cited financial concerns in having a marshal’s office and have referred to Bradley as a disgruntled former employee. Also, the majority board leaders note that during a recent town hall meeting on the fate of the marshal’s office, no real prevailing sentiment emerged to keep the agency intact. They believe that the main concern voiced by residents dealt with a desire to have a strong law enforcement presence in town.
But critics of this idea, such as Mayor Lorrie Worthey, say public safety is a huge concern. They also question the way the marshal’s office was shut down and why employees are now being used to do code enforcement work.
The future of GMF’s law enforcement will become a big issue in the next few months, with the clock ticking for a prompt decision. GMF will have a new town hall constructed by Labor Day or early fall. A major section of this facility will be designed to equip either a marshal’s office or possibly a sheriff’s substation for El Paso County.