Fact-checking a contentious Summit County sheriff’s race

Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, left, and Derek Woodman set down their notes ahead of the candidate forum Wednesday night, Oct. 3, at the Summit County Community and Senior Center in Frisco.
Hugh Carey /

The race for Summit County Sheriff has undoubtedly become one of the more contentious and competitive campaigns that has emerged over recent months, with rumors and figures flying in every direction about both candidates.

But with so much information, much of it unsubstantiated, what are voters to think? We broke down some of the most common criticisms and rumors surrounding the campaign to try to shed some light on the issues.

Flight for Life Crash

One frequent criticism circulating around sheriff candidate Derek Woodman is that he failed to respond to one of Summit County’s most tragic incidents in recent memory: the Flight For Life helicopter crash that took place on July 3, 2015.

According to Woodman, he was with his wife celebrating her birthday in Gypsum when the crash occurred. He said that he returned to Summit County later that day and made his way to the scene about four hours after the crash. But many maintain that Woodman never arrived.

Of note, Woodman’s name — along with other notable figures who were certainly at the scene such as Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons and Summit Fire & EMS chief Jeff Berino — doesn’t appear on the crash’s crime scene entry log, likely because the Federal Aviation Administration had taken control. A number of Summit Fire & EMS employees in attendance that day also claimed they never saw Woodman at the scene, and he doesn’t show up in any of the more than 50 photographs taken by the department.

Woodman said that he never actually entered the crash scene (went under the tape, in other words), and that Summit Fire & EMS had left by the time he arrived.

Former Sheriff John Minor said that he does recall seeing Woodman on scene sometime after the crash.

“He was there on the day of the crash,” said Minor. “I just don’t remember when. It was over three years ago, but to the best of my knowledge he was there.”

Peak 2 Fire

A similar critique of Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons is that he was out of town, possibly filming a movie, during the Peak 2 Fire that flared up in July 2017. While it is true that FitzSimons was out of town, and didn’t immediately return after news of the fire, he was not filming a movie.

Instead, FitzSimons was on a vacation with his wife on Marco Island, just off the southwestern coast of the Florida peninsula. The timeline of FitzSimons’ filmography helps to corroborate the fact that he wasn’t working at the time. The latest film he worked on — 2017’s “Bright” — wrapped well before the fire.

“Shame on me if I don’t have a qualified leadership staff in place,” said FitzSimons. “We all should be able to cover each other. I’m entitled to a vacation. And we build-in depth at all positions, including incident management. We’re all the same people wearing different hats. … the people that I left in my stead I fully trust, as should the community.”

Is FitzSimons’ brother endorsing Derek Woodman?

Jaime FitzSimons’ brother, Charlie FitzSimons, is indeed endorsing Derek Woodman in the upcoming election. In a recent email to the Summit Daily News, Charlie said he was proud to endorse Woodman over his brother.

“As the brother of the incumbent Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, I urge you to consider your vote carefully, honestly and across party lines,” said Charlie. “Derek’s record speaks for itself.”

According to Woodman, Charlie reached out to him via phone more than two years ago and the two still talk multiple times per week. Charlie currently lives in Sweden.

FitzSimons chose not to address his brother’s decision in detail.

“I’ll address it by saying this: My brother is one of the reasons that I am committed to finding solutions for people with severe and persistent mental health issues in this community. I love my brother, and I will not disparage my brother.”

Did FitzSimons fire Woodman?

It’s no secret that Woodman was terminated from the sheriff’s office shortly after the appointment of FitzSimons in 2016. But FitzSimons has maintained throughout the campaign that he didn’t actually fire Woodman.

“I did not fire Derek Woodman,” said FitzSimons. “The office of the sheriff is a constitutional office, and everybody swears an oath to the office of the sheriff who works there. In the case of Derek Woodman, when I was appointed sheriff I had to swear my staff back in. And I chose not to swear Derek Woodman back in for the reasons I’ve previously stated. I wanted to move the office forward and I felt I couldn’t do that with him.”

According to the Colorado Revised Statutes, the sheriff may appoint or revoke the appointment of deputies or the undersheriff upon entering office. FitzSimons said that he met with Woodman following his appointment to discuss his ability to faithfully perform his duties as undersheriff before deciding not to swear him in. In 2016, FitzSimons cited a precedent within law enforcement that political opponents create inherent conflict in the office.

FitzSimons also pointed to a quote Woodman gave to the Summit Daily News in May 2016 as justification of the move.

“It certainly would create a difficult situation for two candidates in a senior-level management position to be running against each other,” said Woodman following his departure from the office. “So I’m not going to be sworn in today, so I’m unemployed.”

But Woodman said that he was fired without a serious conversation regarding his duties, claiming that FitzSimons had a multi-page document outlining the reasons for Woodman’s termination just minutes after his appointment as sheriff.

“I’ll admit, while it wasn’t precedent-setting, it was shocking,” said Woodman.

Turnover Rates

At the Summit Daily News’ election forum earlier this month, Woodman claimed that the turnover rates at the sheriff’s office had eclipsed 70 percent under FitzSimons’ administration.

While Woodman said that he was using calculations based around the entire 29 months FitzSimons had been in office, in lieu of the traditional calendar or fiscal year calculations, his numbers were still off. According to the Summit County Human Resources Department, the sheriff’s office has averaged a turnover rate of 20 percent since 2014. Under FitzSimons, the turnover rates by year have been 20 percent in 2016 (June-Dec), 15 percent in 2017, and 19 percent this year.

Did Jaime FitzSimons get fired from the LAPD?

One of the darkest and most well-documented pieces of FitzSimons’ history was the suicide of fellow Los Angeles Police Department officer Nadine Arango, following an extramarital affair with FitzSimons in 1998. Arango’s estranged husband later filed a wrongful death lawsuit against both FitzSimons and the LAPD, though a California Court of Appeals upheld a summary judgment releasing FitzSimons and the LAPD from liability.

While FitzSimons’ personnel records with the LAPD aren’t public record, FitzSimons did confirm that he was subsequently terminated from the department sometime after the incident. The department later reinstated FitzSimons after he brought a lawsuit against the LAPD.

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