Special prosecutor dismisses petty offense case against Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek
Van Beek says he’s ‘pleased’ but the ‘personal attack’ was ‘unwarranted’
EAGLE — James van Beek’s petty offense case has been dismissed.
In his motion to dismiss the case filed late Thursday, special prosecutor Ben Sollars said there was “no reasonable likelihood” of convicting the sheriff of Eagle County of the misdemeanor charge.
Van Beek said he had always been “confident” that, after a thorough investigation, the case would be dismissed.
‘Unwarranted personal attack’
District Attorney Bruce Brown, a Democrat, presented the case that convinced a grand jury to hand down a petty offense indictment against van Beek, Eagle County’s only elected Republican.
At issue in the case is a county fund containing money seized by the Sheriff’s Office. Brown convinced a grand jury that van Beek might be improperly spending money from that reserve fund and the grand jury indicted van Beek with a misdemeanor petty offense. Brown claims he should have been part of any spending decisions.
Brown declined to comment Friday afternoon, referring questions to Sollars, a deputy district attorney in the 9th Judicial District’s Glenwood Springs office.
Van Beek, though, had plenty to say, calling the indictment “unwarranted, a “personal attack,” and an attack on the “men and women of the Sheriff’s Office.”
“I am pleased with the result. It is unfortunate the taxpayers of both Eagle and Garfield counties had to fund a case that resulted in the dismissal of an ill-conceived petty offense charge,” van Beek said in a written statement. “I not only looked at this as an unwarranted attack on me personally, but an attack on the fine men and women who commit their energies to the Sheriff’s Office.”
“I was confident that the result of a fair assessment of this allegation would result in its dismissal,” van Beek said. “I will continue to believe and promote the candid conversations between public officials as the best way of resolving disagreements and better serving our citizens. I am thankful for the support I have received from the office and the community. I look forward to putting this matter behind me and focusing on doing the job I was elected to do.”
Fund at center of disagreement
The dustup centers on a disagreement over how seized money was being spent. Van Beek and Brown are two of the three committee members who oversee that fund. Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu is the third.
Among expenditures from that fund were a new freezer for the jail, paying a ghostwriter to produce van Beek’s columns in the Vail Daily, Crimestopper rewards, and support for Little League baseball teams and a local high school booster club.
The case was handed over to Sollars and Summit County Judge Ed Casias.
Parking lot conversation
The tempest began when then-Eagle County Commissioner Jill Ryan, also a Democrat, spoke with Brown in a parking lot after a meeting.
“I know Bryan (Treu) is acting like I filed some formal complaint,” Ryan said in a Friday afternoon phone call. “I asked if they (the three-member committee) were meeting. That was the extent of my involvement. This was part of my formal duties as a commissioner.”
Ryan resigned from the Eagle County board of commissioners when Gov. Jared Polis appointed her as executive director for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
‘Could’ve solved it over coffee’
The grand jury investigation began late last winter when Brown subpoenaed van Beek for the grand jury.
In an email to Treu and van Beek, Brown demanded that the confiscated funds — also called a forfeiture fund — and sheriff reserve accounts be frozen, and the $81,239.51 in them be deposited in bank accounts that the District Attorney’s Office controls.
Van Beek and Treu said no, prompting Brown’s grand jury case and the investigation by special prosecutor Sollars that ended with his motion to dismiss the case, filed Thursday.
“We appreciate the common-sense approach taken by the 9th Judicial District in this matter,” Treu said. “It has always been my opinion that the sheriff acted appropriately.”
Treu added that van Beek remains open to discussions on process improvements.
“Any disagreements about the expenditures identified in the indictment could have easily been resolved over a cup of coffee,” Treu said. “Convening a grand jury for a petty offense was unnecessary and we are thankful the 9th Judicial District ended it quickly with a voluntary dismissal of the charge.”
Van Beek took it seriously, hiring former state public defender David Kaplan to lead his defense. Kaplan now works for the same law firm that defended Kobe Bryant in his Eagle County sex assault case.
“I am thankful we were able to bring a swift conclusion to this matter working with the 9th District Attorney’s; an office who evaluated the allegation and the evidence as we did finding no criminal conduct,” Kaplan said in a written statement. “The sheriff’s possession and expenditures of funds has always been appropriate, transparent and in the best interest of the citizens of Eagle County. It is unfortunate that there was such an expenditure of time and resources when a simple conversation could have resolved any difficulties.”
For downvalley humans, it’s pretty cool when elk decide to hunker down around Eagle for the winter. For the elk, it’s more of a lesser-of-two-evils situation.