WELD COUNTY, Colo. — Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams has been one of the most vocal critics against red flag laws since Colorado legislators started considering it in 2019.
When he learned an inmate in the Weld County Jail used the law to ask a judge to remove weapons from Reams and a unit in the jail, he was frustrated to see it being abused in the ways he warned against.
On Feb. 25, Weld District Chief Judge James Hartmann reviewed and denied a temporary extreme risk protection order filed by an inmate of the jail. Reams learned of the petition later that day, when Hartmann forwarded him the dismissal. The inmate will not be named at the request of Reams due to a concern the inmate is seeking notoriety through frivolous complaints.
Deputies “carry shotguns inside the jail intimidating and excessively abusing inmates with these shotguns,” the inmate wrote in the complaint. “These deputys (sic) carry these deadly weapons 24 hours a day patrolling the floors of this jail intimidating and threatening people for the most minor things.”
The “shotguns” the inmate referenced are actually less-than-lethal weapons used by a specialized team of deputies in the jail for situations with enhanced security risks. Hartmann determined the inmate failed to show the deputies posed “a significant risk of causing personal injury to self or others in the near future.”
The law allows family members, roommates or law enforcement to petition courts for an extreme risk protection order. The inmate claimed he regularly resides with Reams and the jail deputies, a question Hartmann did not address. Reams said they’re reviewing the petition front and back to see if any criminal charges apply.
When a Fort Collins woman filed a petition against a Colorado State University police officer and falsely said they shared a child together, police issued an arrest warrant on suspicion of perjury, The Denver Post reported.
“I don’t know that the law doesn’t allow for him to use that interpretation,” Reams said. “I don’t know that I could say he perjured himself at this point based on how poorly this law is written.”
The inmate has a history of filing complaints about the jail since his arrest in May 2016. His two ongoing court cases in Weld County have been delayed by mental competency evaluations and mental health commitment in March 2018, according to online court records.
The inmate wrote to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in March 2018 that a fellow inmate was shot “at least seven times” in October 2017, prompting an inquiry. Reams said he wasn’t aware of any progress on the inquiry, and a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not return a call seeking updates.
Despite the complaint, Reams said, employees of the jail have not had to use any force against the inmate.
Reams said he wasn’t sure why the inmate filed the petition, but he said he’d like to see the inmate’s court cases completed, so the inmate would no longer be in his facility.
“He’s very frustrated with being in the facility. He’s been there for quite some time,” Reams said. “He’s definitely entertained himself with letter writings to whomever will listen.”
Reams said he will not enforce any red flag orders sent to his office, on the basis that he interprets the law to be unconstitutional. Though advocates for the law may say the judge’s dismissal shows there are safeguards in place, Reams said things could have played out differently.
“It was probably fortunate in the way (the inmate) is well known to the court system here, so that probably raised a few red flags,” he said. “Had it been any other inmate or judge who was not necessarily aware of (the inmate) or the environment that he comes from, I don’t know that the outcome would have been the same.”