Sheriff candidates weigh in on rights

Spruell, Nowlin cite protection from government

“There is much local and national controversy about the Second Amendment, but we know the Bill of Rights contains nine others,” said District Attorney Will Furse. “What other amendments are specifically important to the possession of sheriff, and how do you plan on protecting those rights?”

Moderator Furse posed the question to Republican candidates for Montezuma County sheriff at a Cortez Young Professionals forum on Monday.

Sheriff Dennis Spruell was the first to respond, based on a coin flip. He mentioned freedom of speech and freedom of unlawful search and seizure, but said the whole Bill of Rights is important.

“How does the federal government take control?” Spruell asked of three-dozen in attendance at Monday’s forum. “By chipping away at the Constitution one bite at a time.”

The question was repeated for challenger Steve Nowlin. The GOP frontrunner said all peace officers were sworn to uphold the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. He specifically mentioned freedom of speech, freedom of the press, due process and unlawful search and seizure.

“The Constitution is not there to simply protect us from the federal government, but to protect us from government, period,” Nowlin said. “That includes law enforcement.”

During his reply, Spruell noted that his campaign centered on placing “God in our lives and the Constitution in our government.”

Spruell also said he has been a champion of Constitutional freedoms since launching his first campaign in 2010. He reinforced that stance by mentioning that a 2011 article published by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) put him in the league of “patriots” defending against the federal government.

Within weeks of being elected in 2011, Spruell was an invited guest on a radio show based in Memphis, Tenn., that publicly promotes neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers, anti-Semites and other extremists. Spruell later said he didn’t know the radio show was hosted by a white nationalist.

According to SPLC article, Spruell appeared on the radio show to promote his belief that the federal government was encroaching on the public’s right to access federal lands. During the radio interview, Spruell threatened to arrest any federal agent in Montezuma County who, in his view, violated the Constitution.

Based in Montgomery, Ala., the SPLC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry.

In closing remarks to the question Monday, Spruell described the SPLC as a “very liberal, anti-conservative” outfit.

Spruell said of the coverage he received from the SPLC: “Soon as I got off the phone with that man, I had a little old man on the phone, he goes, ‘Boy, you got the Southern Poverty Law Center against you,’” Spruell recalled. “‘You’re doing a good job, boy. You’re doing a good job.’”

During his reply to the question, Nowlin also said that proper training of law enforcement officials was important to protecting the Bill of Rights. He said every peace officer should be knowledgeable about what the law allows and how to protect citizens by enforcing the Constitution.

“As sheriff, I would bring sufficient training to all officers, each and everyone of them, constantly, because the laws are always changing,” Nowlin said.