Running unopposed, Summit County Sheriff John Minor reflects, prepares for second full term
September 22, 2010
BRECKENRIDGE – Summit County Sheriff John Minor has shaken hands with a Hells Angel named Meat. He’s saved a woman’s life, and he’s had a child die in his arms.
“You see the best of humanity, and you see the worst of it,” he said. “Tragedies: That’s the tough part.”
The 45-year-old Republican born in England is running unopposed to keep his office in November. First elected in 2004 after a heated primary race, Minor was able to keep his seat unopposed in 2006.
“He’s very caring. He’s very sensitive to the needs of the people,” said Democrat Gary Lindstrom, a retired law enforcer of 30 years who was undersheriff when Minor was hired to the jail in 1990. “John Minor’s the very best we’ve ever had.”
The quick-witted Minor is a Rotarian and a gun fancier whose weapon of choice is a Kimber .45 caliber pistol. He admires Colin Powell, Norman Schwarzkopf and George Patton.
He frequently rides his bicycle for exercise but says he doesn’t always halt at stop signs.
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“We need to bring some common sense to some of these traffic laws as they pertain to cyclists,” Minor said, adding that clipping in and out of pedals can make complete stops difficult.
Minor is quick to point out that as sheriff, he doesn’t make laws. He enforces them by Colorado statute.
And challenges to keeping his agency in good running order are likely to get tougher in his next term.
“I think (the county has) cut the budget almost every year I’ve been sheriff,” he said. “We’re reaching a tipping point.”
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, a Republican, said Minor has shown “great leadership.”
“He’s kept a professional, competent police force even when the budgets keep sinking,” Hurlbert said.
Looming budget cuts because of falling real estate values are almost certain to hit the Sheriff’s Office in 2012, and some ballot measures this November, if approved, could lead to significant cuts.
Minor said the county commissioners asked his office to prepare potential budgets with reductions ranging from 3 percent to 20 percent.
He said he tells people that if his office loses a fifth of its revenue, “we lower the stars and stripes outside, we raise the white flag, and we go home.”
The Sheriff’s Office is in charge of Summit County Jail, courthouse security, search and rescue operations, the animal shelter and more – in addition to keeping deputies patrolling the streets.
“You love this job and this job gives you a headache,” he said.
School resource officers, the DARE program and the county’s drug task force are among the cuts his office has made. Reduced resources also mean less time open to investigating cold cases, he said.
Recent issues regarding medical marijuana have added unique challenges to law enforcement in Summit as well as the rest of the state.
The state records system protects the names of caregivers and patients, which likely helps prevent crimes against them but makes it tough for law enforcers. Several busts of grow operations in the past year turned out to be wastes of resources after the growers proved their status as legal caregivers.
“We did one the other day,” Minor said. “We knocked on the door without a warrant because there was a complaint (about the smell).”
He said the resident was uncooperative; deputies returned with a warrant and searched the residence. Though the grow appeared to be in compliance with state law, there were some issues with the electrical wiring.
“We ended up doing a building code violation,” Minor said.
Asked his thoughts of the recent, apparently widespread acceptance of marijuana – whether medical or decriminalized for personal possession – Minor said he’s concerned about the message to the youth. He said when the perception of marijuana as a social norm began taking hold in Alaska, it led to more kids using the drug recreationally.
“That worries me as a parent,” he said. “Long-term, I think we need to take a look at it in Colorado.”
Minor is married with two daughters: an eighth-grader and a sixth-grader.
In his 20 years as a law enforcer, Minor said a few events have had a “profound impact” on him.
“It’s not the big arrests; it’s the other stuff that lives with you,” he said. “Some of it haunts you.”
In 2003 he reported to an apartment complex where a woman was reported to be suicidal. He said he knocked on her door and she didn’t answer. The property manager gave him a key, he entered and ended up kicking down the door to the woman’s locked bedroom.
“Pill bottles were everywhere,” he said. “It was like, ‘Oh, wow. Here we go.'”
He said he “started doing sternum rubs” in an effort to revive her and called for an ambulance. A Silverthorne officer at the time, Minor was given a meritorious service medal for saving a life.
About a year earlier, Minor reported to a disturbance call regarding a woman screaming.
“I was the closest car. I started rolling,” he said, adding that dispatch later added the lady was saying her baby was dead.
He arrived on the scene not sure what to expect, with one hand on his weapon and the other on a medical kit. He soon discovered a 2-year-old boy on the verge of death.
“The kid had crawled up and grabbed a filing cabinet, which fell on top of him,” Minor said.
He and another officer initiated CPR.
“When I was with that kid, that mom was grabbing my ankles asking me to save his life,” Minor said. “For lack of a better term, he died in my arms.”
He said he works to look after his deputies’ needs when they deal with traumatic experiences.
“You never know what you’re going to roll into,” he said. “Tomorrow’s a new day, and it may happen again.”
In a community of roughly 29,000 people, the five local (and sometimes federal and state) law enforcement agencies frequently work together in a variety of capacities – from investigations to emergencies and even philanthropy.
“What I find most appealing is that John works hard to make sure we’re all on the same page,” Breckenridge police chief Rick Holman said. “He’ll take the time to run different things by the different police chiefs and make sure that we’re aware of what’s going on.”
The Citizen’s Police Academy, Adopt An Angel and Safe Summer Kickoff programs are among those drawing collaboration among the agencies, he said.
Minor said he’s pleased with the cooperation among police forces as well as fire districts and the DA’s office.
“Look at communities where the sheriff and police chief don’t talk: We don’t have that here,” he said.
Minor also said his deputies have taken the initiative with some great programs such as mental health counseling for jail inmates, efforts to address misconceptions in the Latino community and a program that takes at-risk kids on camping trips.
Beyond government organizations, people respect Minor for his way of dealing with people.
“Minor has a way of pleasing everyone,” Lindstrom said, citing his professional, personal handling of a recent issue with bears and garbage. “He really, sincerely cares.”
In the 1990s, Minor said he once came upon a motorcyclist weaving across the road. He pulled the man over and saw “Hells Angels” stitched into the back his jacket.
“He was lost,” Minor said, adding that the man was looking for a campground. “I said, ‘There’s a campground here, follow me.”
They stopped at the entrance to the campground.
“He takes off his big mitt, he goes, ‘My name’s Meat,'” Minor said, adding that they shook hands.
A short time later about 20 to 30 members of the outlaw motorcycle group – notorious for running into trouble with the law – were lined up near the campground, across a fence from some sheriff’s deputies at Farmer’s Korner. The bikers were “being chippy,” or touchy and irritable, with the officers.
“It was like a parting of the Red Sea,” Minor said, adding that he was among the officers when a man standing as high as 6 feet 7 inches approached the fence. “Out of the background comes a monster of a man who says, ‘These guys are OK.’ That was Meat.”
After he’s likely re-elected this November, Minor will serve another four years.
“It’s not going to be a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.
Minor could be re-elected in 2014 to serve another four years before reaching term limits. But he said he’s not making any long-term commitments this early.
“There’s a part of me that wants a job that doesn’t get phone calls at 3 o’clock in the morning,” he said. “Part of me will miss the craziness of this job. I don’t know yet.”
SDN reporter Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.