Vail Valley DUI suspects may go to jail
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – On St. Patrick’s Day, Avon police charged a man with driving drunk after the man allegedly drove onto the sidewalk in front of Copy Copy in Avon.
About three hours later, that same driver got in trouble again.
This time, a deputy with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office charged the man with driving drunk in Avon.
Although the driver was arrested twice for drunk driving within a matter of hours, he never went to jail that night.
And for some people in the local law enforcement community, the case raised questions about Sheriff Joe Hoy’s policy on DUI suspects.
“It exposed a concern,” Hoy said. “It was part of the discussion I had with some of the deputies at a general meeting.”
Hoy said he recently changed his policy on DUI suspects after listening to officers’ concerns about it. The new, three-month trial policy allows officers, at their discretion, to bring suspected drunk drivers to the jail.
Under Hoy’s old policy, suspected drunk drivers generally did not go to jail unless they racked up a violent felony charge. Rather, police officers gave suspects a summons to appear in court. Police officers then released the drivers to a sober, responsible person – a policy common within police agencies across the nation.
But that policy has come under fire recently from Hoy’s challenger in the upcoming primary election.
Charles Wolf, a deputy who is running for sheriff, thinks anyone arrested for drunk driving should go to jail, and he says he would tighten the policy even more if elected.
“We can’t just lock people up until they’re completely sober,” Wolf said. “It just doesn’t work that way, but I think we’re avoiding a liability issue by at least doing everything we can to prevent that individual from driving again.”
Hoy has his reasons for stopping short of putting all drunk driving suspects behind bars. When an officer brings a suspect to jail in Eagle, that officer must leave his or her coverage area, Hoy said.
That’s why Hoy has asked police to consider how heavy their call load is and how much strain a trip to the jail would place on other officers, before they bring a suspect to jail.
As Undersheriff Jeff Layman explains, “When an officer leave his post, so to speak, that means others have to fill in where that officer’s left from. It may cause us some issues out on the street.”
The trial policy does not require officers to bring suspects to jail. Rather, it gives them the option. An e-mail to police officials encouraged them to use the policy for repeat offenders. It also asked them to consider whether there is adequate staffing at the jail to accommodate the accused.
Once at the jail, officials can either release the suspect once paperwork is complete or set bail, jail administrator Bill Kaufman said.
Avon police chief Bob Ticer applauded the policy change, saying Avon police will now take DUI suspects to jail, except when the department is short staffed or dealing with an influx of other calls.
Wolf thinks the policy fails to go far enough. Officers still have the option of releasing a suspected drunk driver to a responsible person. As Wolf puts it, that’s like saying “Hey, here’s a problem. Can you solve it for us?”
Wolf says tracking down a responsible person can take just as long as driving to the jail, and it, too, can take the officer outside his or her coverage area.
Overcrowding at the jail prompted Hoy to put the original DUI policy in place.
When the old Eagle County jail opened in 1985, there was plenty of space, Kaufman said.
That changed in the mid-90s.
“We started feeling pressure from different directions,” Kaufman said. “The growth of the community was a huge influence.”
To alleviate overcrowding, the jail added bunks to 16 beds, bringing the total number of beds to 62, Kaufman said. Yet the jail’s population continued to swell.
Faced with an increasingly full jail, then-sheriff A.J. Johnson placed restrictions on who the jail could accept, Kaufman said.
On days when the jail was especially crowded, it no longer accepted people charged with misdemeanors, like drunk driving, or petty offenses, Kaufman said.
Also around that time, police officers in El Jebel started asking for permission to simply give DUI suspects a summons to appear in court instead of driving 45 minutes to the jail, Kaufman said.
Just one officer at a time covered El Jebel, and that officer had to leave the area unmanned for up to three hours to book a DUI suspect into the jail, Kaufman said.
El Jebel’s experiment with releasing drunk drivers appeared to be working.
“These folks are showing up for court,” Kaufman said. “They’re not getting back in their cars.”
In 2002 or 2003, Hoy enacted a new policy for all the local police agencies, calling for DUI suspects to be given a summons and released to a responsible party. Jail beds were reserved mainly for those suspect of felonies.
At that time, officials were paying other agencies to house inmates that did not fit in the jail, Kaufman said.
“There was no room at the inn,” Hoy said. “There was no bed space.”
Although Eagle County’s new jail, which opened in January, added 40 more beds for inmates, that doesn’t mean space abounds for drunk driving suspects, Hoy said.
The number of holding cells – cells the jail uses for suspected drunk drivers – did not increase, he said. There are five holding cells and jail officials also use those cells to hold people charged with domestic violence, theft or probation violations, Kaufman said.
The success of the new trial policy may hinge on whether the jail can accommodate the number of DUI suspects officers bring to the jail.
“We don’t know if we’re going to be inundated with DUIs,” Hoy said.
Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or email@example.com.