Sheriff: Fires creates heated situations

Keywords: Poll question,

At Monday’s Montezuma County Commission meeting, Sheriff Dennis Spruell spoke about the Roatcap Fire that occurred just south of Dolores and some incidents involving his deputies during the crisis, including one in particular that resulted in the arrest of a Cortez teacher.

Spruell said the fighting of the Roatcap Fire went much better than the Weber Fire that burned more than 10,000 acres in late June and early July.

Spruell said the sheriff’s office does not like issuing evacuations or not allowing people to return home once they leave a residence after an evacuation order is given.

“I don’t want to evacuate, but sometimes it is a necessity,” he said.

No training is provided to his deputies on how to conduct evacuations, but he thinks they are wise enough to know what to do.

He stressed that authorities cannot force a resident to leave their property, and said it is the property owner’s decision if they want to stay and “burn up.”

Commissioners wanted to know about the incident involving the teacher who allegedly punched a deputy after being told he would not be allowed onto a blocked road in an attempt to save his horses.

Spruell told the commission that his deputies do not take into consideration the career of the person and instead looks at the actions.

He said if the teacher, John McHenry, had waited around 30 seconds and not been so impatient something could have been worked out to remove the horses from his property.

He pointed out that McHenry’s wife was allowed back onto their property to remove the horses after her husband had been arrested.

“We will find a way to get to the livestock. We will make it happen. Just give us 30 seconds,” he said. “Once we evacuate we can’t let people come in.”

The sheriff said he understands the concerns of the evacuated residents, but added they often want immediate results and only hear what they want to hear.

“People get excited and there is no talking to them,” and added if one person is allowed back into an evacuated area, other residents would want to return to their homes, too.

The first and most important thing that needs to be done during a crisis is to ensure the health, welfare and safety of residents, he said.

“That is why we have roadblocks. We are not trying to be mean,” he said. “We don’t have time to debate.”

Commissioner Gerald Koppenhafer said one issue is some sheriff deputies are not giving much of an explanation when asked questions during a crisis, but Spruell said when they have time, an explanation will be given.

McHenry has been charged with second-degree assault on a peace officer, a felony, and misdemeanor charges of obstructing government operations, resisting arrest and obstructing a peace officer.

michaelm@cortezjournal.com