Candidates answer Journal questionnaire

Spruell continues his campaign

Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell has not given up on his campaign to seek a second term in office.

Despite losing the GOP nod to be placed on the ballot at last week’s Republican General Assembly, Spruell said he would petition to be placed on the ballot.

“I need over 800 registered Republican voters in less than 7 days,” Spruell said on Monday. “It will be very difficult.”

The deadline for Spruell to gather enough signatures to petition onto the ballot is Monday, March 31.

At the GOP assembly last week, challenger Steve Nowlin of Dolores was overwhelmingly endorsed as the Republican sheriff’s candidate. Nowlin garnered 76 delegate votes, compared with Spruell’s 36.

Challenger Diane Fox received 32 delegate votes, but it’s unclear whether she will continue her campaign. Attempts to reach her for comment were unsuccessful, and she didn’t respond to a Cortez Journal candidate questionnaire by deadline.

All three candidates were asked to respond to the questionnaire by noon on Wednesday, March 26.

Fifteen questions were posed, including some submitted by readers from the newspaper’s Facebook page,

Read Sheriff Dennis Spruell’s responses here:

Read challenger Steve Nowlin’s responses here:

When asked to list three action items their administration would take to guarantee the people’s right to know, Nowlin replied, in part, stating he would allow media access to public records during regular business hours, and meet with all media sources to develop easy two-way communications.

“I would encourage citizens and media representatives to ride along or spend time with deputies in all divisions, so that we can improve and develop good partnerships,” Nowlin wrote.

In response to the same question, Spruell said the sheriff’s office must answer to the people. He said he took great pride in responding to every phone call and email from citizens during his first term in office. He also said his administration would be transparent through a social media site.

“We will continue to provide legally requested items under Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act,” Spruell said.

(The Cortez Journal made several public records requests to the sheriff’s office in January, ranging from performance evaluations of former deputies to daily access to jail logs for all felony arrests. All the requested public documents and requests were denied by Spruell’s administration).

Another question posed to the candidates was to describe the biggest mistake of their careers and the lessons learned. Nowlin said he formerly took the outcome of a criminal case too personally, and expressed his anger and displeasure in writing to prosecutors.

“I later realized how unprofessional and demeaning this act was,” Nowlin said. “I learned that everyone has their own definition of justice, and that I must learn to be the best that I can be in my profession in order to provide victims with the best opportunity for justice to be sought, understanding that I play just one part in our judicial system.”

Spruell said his biggest mistake was his refusal to be a micro manager when taking command as sheriff. Instead, he said he trusted his command staff to take care of day-to-day operations without double-checking their work.

“This lead to unscrupulous activity that I would never condone,” Spruell said. “I learned I do not have to be a micro manager, but I must verify and keep a hands-on approach to all activities within the office.”

Sheriff candidates were also asked whether they believed there were a disproportionate number of minorities incarcerated at the jail, and what outreach efforts they would undertake to ease minority concerns.

Nowlin said he didn’t think there was a disparity, adding that laws prohibit racial profiling of any kind. He said the implementation of contact and arrest data reporting could be performed and made available for inspection.

“Any and all concerns or problems could be addressed by developing good working relationships with groups and entities,” Nowlin said, “and having regular or continued contact, along with providing annual training for deputies.”

Spruell also dismissed the belief that there was a disproportionate number of minorities, adding that 47 percent of the jail’s population in 2013 was white, compared with 42 percent who were Native American.

“We currently work well with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe,” Spruell said. “Our officers are trained in cultural awareness. The sheriff’s office works with tribal members to address problems that affect all of us.”

The questionnaires, including candidate’s unedited replies in their entirety, are available for viewing at