Summit County names Jaime FitzSimons interim sheriff | SummitDaily.com

Summit County names Jaime FitzSimons interim sheriff

A former LAPD detective with Hollywood ties will serve as Summit County's interim sheriff.

Summit's Board of County Commissioners appointed Jaime FitzSimons, formerly a commander in the department, to the position during a special meeting Friday morning at the County Courthouse in Breckenridge.

FitzSimons, who was promptly sworn in behind the closed doors of the county manager's office, was unanimously picked by the three commissioners over Undersheriff Derek Woodman and Mark Hanschmidt, who retired as Silverthorne's police chief in December of last year.

"Obviously I'm humbled, especially by (the commissioners') support, by their vote of confidence in me," said Sheriff FitzSimons. "I have many, many state, local, federal and community partners out there, that I've nurtured these relationships over the years, and I look forward to continuing to build on those relationships and build on the success of (former Sheriff) John Minor."

The job of sheriff, an elected post, officially opened after Minor accepted the job as Silverthorne's next chief of police in late-April. Minor was to depart the county position on May 30, but now shifts into staff role until starting as Silverthorne's law enforcement boss on May 31.

FitzSimons, a Democrat, quickly confirmed his intention of seeking the job permanently by announcing his candidacy for sheriff in November's election. He headed back to the office to swear in his deputies following the announcement, but said he would reach out to local leaders of the party to begin working through the process to get his name on the ballot.

As part of the transition process, Undersheriff Woodman, a Republican who earlier this month received his party's backing for the November election, was informed that he would not be retained — essentially fired — as the office's No. 2, effectively immediately. Woodman had held the position with the sheriff's office since 2004, and the move is permitted based on state precedent within law enforcement due to the inherent conflict it could create in the chain of command among two contenders in an approaching election.

Woodman said he was uncertain what he would do, if anything, for work in the meantime. He reiterated that he is still running for the position against FitzSimons and understood the new sheriff's decision.

"It certainly would create a difficult situation for two candidates in a senior-level management position to be running against each other," said Woodman. "So I'm not going to be sworn in today, so I'm unemployed. I hold my head up. You've got to put in for what you believe in."

FitzSimons said the decision to let Woodman go wasn't easy.

"Obviously that makes for some complications at the office," he added, "so I will not be reappointing him this afternoon, based on the candidacy issue. What makes it even harder is Derek and I are great friends. We've been great friends for 11 years. As we just said goodbye, we remain good friends."

FitzSimons has been with the sheriff's office since he joined as a deputy in 2006. Before arriving to the county, he served in various law enforcement capacities with the Los Angeles Police Department dating back to the beginning of his career in 1990. In addition, he's had a career in nearby Hollywood as a consultant for feature films such as "Training Day" (2001), "End of Watch" (2012) and "Sabotage" (2014).

TAKING THEIR PICK

Coming to a final choice, according to the county commissioners, was a tough one. Each of the candidates had a long-tenured career in law enforcement and within the local community.

"It's great that we've got three candidates that are all so very good," explained Commissioner Thomas Davidson. "All three of us up here know how important the decision we have before us this morning is. This is probably one of the toughest jobs in county government."

Although none of the commissioners, Davidson, Karn Stiegelmeier nor Dan Gibbs, gave hints as to whom they preferred in opening comments, what tipped the scales for each, they said, was FitzSimons' interview as well as the dozens of letters that poured in on his behalf. They included support from state patrol, the school district, local businesses and both past and present officers around the county, among others.

"Jaime really knocked it out of the park, I think, in many ways," said Gibbs. "The depth of his experience in Summit County is impressive as commander … but knowing what it's like to work in other areas outside our wonderful community of Summit County is a real plus. I really liked his background of 15 years experience with LAPD. I can't imagine too many things that he hasn't seen or that would surprise him."

"Commander FitzSimons stood out to me for his tremendous passion for our community," added Stiegelmeier. "I was impressed with his collaborative relationship-building, and that was very much evidenced by the overwhelming comments and a big pile of letters and emails that I received. Out of all of our outstanding applicants, he is really my clear choice."

Though all commissioners are Democrats, Stiegelmeier said political affiliation played no role in the decision-making process. She noted the two prior appointments under her watch — Clerk & Recorder Kathy Neel in 2009 and Coroner Tim Keeling in 2012 — were both Republicans, and Sheriff Minor, a Republican, was also originally appointed in 2004.

IN THE PAST

A less-glamorous item relating to FitzSimons' previous employment that came up during his interview with county officials was the highly-publicized apparent suicide of a fellow LAPD officer Nadine Arango in 1998. Court documents tied to a 2002 lawsuit filed by Arango's family against the city of Los Angeles revealed she was having an extramarital affair with FitzSimons. Arango first attempted suicide by drug overdose in January 1998 after FitzSimons ended the relationship. Then in May, with officers in pursuit, Arango ran her car into a Los Angeles freeway support column and the impact ended her life.

"I've known Jaime since he started in the county," said assistant county manager Scott Vargo, who was closely involved in the sheriff interview process the previous Friday. "He was very upfront with Sheriff Minor about that situation before being hired, and was very candid with me. Some questions during the interview certainly raised the issue, and he, again, has been very upfront about the circumstances of his time with the LAPD. Based on those responses and what we've known about the situation, it did not have a significant bearing on the decision."

GETTING TO WORK

FitzSimons will hold office until Jan. 2 when the next elected sheriff will be sworn in. The winner of that election will serve out Minor's original four-year term through November 2018, when that individual will have to run for re-election to maintain office. For now, Sheriff FitzSimons is ready to go, and has a more formal swearing in set for next Thursday, June 2, at 11 a.m. at the County Courthouse.

"To me, it's honestly not about the title," said FitzSimons, "it's about the position. It's about the work in front of me to do. It's about listening to the community, listening to my other partners and continuing to work toward a common goal of protecting the citizens that we're sworn to serve.

"I'm mildly interested in the badge and the stars," he continued. "It's more about getting out there and doing the job."