Sheriff hopeful Derek Woodman outlines drug enforcement, culture changes as his top priorities
Derek Woodman has unfinished business.
The Republican candidate for Summit County Sheriff made a pledge in 2016 after losing the race to Democrat Jaime FitzSimons that he would return in two years and fill the only role in the agency he’s yet to hold.
“I made a commitment that I would be back,” said Woodman in an interview with the Summit Daily News this week. “2016 was the largest turnout ever in Summit County, and it was decided by a very narrow margin. That election night I said I’d be back. It’s a passion that I have, and I feel that I can contribute a tremendous amount to this community. … I started at the bottom, and I’ve worked every position all the way through with the exception of one. That’s what’s left, and that’s what I want to do.”
Woodman grew up in Los Angeles. At 16, he and his family moved to Colorado, and subsequently to Summit County, where his father, a long-time police officer, took a job at the Summit County Jail. At 21 years old, after his father transferred to the Breckenridge Police Department, Woodman filled his dad’s shoes at the jail. A year later he was recruited to the Summit County Sheriff’s Office where he spent the next 35 years working his way up the ranks.
“It was always something that in the back of my mind I knew I wanted to do, be in law enforcement,” said Woodman.
He spent four years as a patrol deputy before being transferred to investigations as a detective. In 1990, he took control of the Special Operations Division and was promoted to operations division commander three years later. In 2004, he was promoted to the role of undersheriff after years of serving as an unofficial “second in command” under Sheriff Joe Morales, where he stayed until his termination following the 2016 election.
But almost two years later, Woodman believes that his time served with the sheriff’s office left a lasting impact on the community, in part due to a number of programs he helped to develop and implement.
Woodman pointed to the school resource officer program that still exists at the Summit high and middle schools, which he wrote the initial grants to fund at the direction of Sheriff Morales. Woodman also helped to establish the county’s first drug take back program in the early 2000s, and the rapid avalanche deployment program in the 1990s. He also played a role in establishing the first two iterations of the Sheriff’s Office Explorers Program, which allows students the opportunity to gain experience and learn about being a law enforcement officer.
Still, aside from the programs still standing or those recently re-established, Woodman believes that there’s still a lot of work to be done in the community. His biggest concern: drugs.
Woodman was behind the county’s first drug task force established in 1987 and later reformed the task force in 1995 following a brief hiatus. It shut down in 2010 due to funding issues, but its re-establishment is Woodman’s first priority. He is advocating for the return of a multi-agency dedicated drug task force to disrupt the trafficking and usage of illicit substances like opioids, methamphetamines and black market marijuana in the county.
“There’s been a lot of communication and information in the county about mental health issues,” said Woodman. “I absolutely think it’s an issue. It’s real, and it shouldn’t be overlooked. That being said, it’s not the biggest thing facing our county — I think drug enforcement is. It’s been overlooked for too long and pushed by the wayside. People really don’t like admitting there’s a drug problem in the county, but there is.”
Woodman also spoke about the need to create a better culture within the sheriff’s office, looking to further empower employees and better utilize the Citizen Advisory Committee. He lamented previous administrations’ uses of the committee, saying that members need to be more involved in reviewing issues within the office and providing input, rather than just serving as a “sounding board.”
Woodman also voiced a desire to provide deputies with more agency in the office, opening his door to ideas and opportunities for additional training.
“I think what’s important is empowering them to bring their ideas to me, and tell me why,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is stymie their growth, but instead allow it to become reality.”
Woodman addressed some of the criticisms that have emerged during his campaign, namely a 2016 audit that detailed inconsistencies in the financial ledgers he kept while overseeing the drug task force.
In the audit, spurred by former Sheriff John Minor while transitioning to the Silverthorne Police Department, the accounting firm Eide Bailly found inconsistent records of how classified funds recorded in a black ledger were spent. The audit reveals almost $50,000 in confidential funds doled out to the drug task force from 1998 to 2009, and almost $40,000 lacked documentation of how it was spent.
Additionally, more than $3,000 in cash, along with three handguns were discovered in Woodman’s belongings following his departure.
Woodman claims that the missing receipts and expenditures from the audit were kept in case files themselves, which were apparently never recovered by auditors, despite Woodman’s requests and instructions on how to access the files. He continued to say that no issues were previously discovered, despite common audits by the county, state and federal governments along with the District Attorney’s Office.
He went on to say that the $3,000 in cash discovered in his office was simply evidence that hadn’t made it’s way to the District Attorney’s Office yet and denied any knowledge of two of the three guns supposedly discovered in his office and car.
Woodman believes that two guns were added to his possessions after his termination, and asserted that the audit was a politically motivated move by county officials to smear his name ahead of the 2016 election. He questioned the county commissioners’ decision to appoint FitzSimons as an interim sheriff months earlier, claiming they wanted someone “they could tell what to do.” He continued to slam county manager Scott Vargo for his role in the audit.
“It did what they wanted it to do,” said Woodman. “They wanted to discredit me and it did. It was an attempt to discredit me and to force me out.”
Vargo couldn’t be reached to comment on Woodman’s allegations, but denied any political motivations in a 2016 interview with the Summit Daily News.
Today, Woodman helps to run two Dillon businesses — Endurance Cycling Lab and Elevation Fitness — with his wife Tina. But if elected, his priorities are clear.
“My personal life will go by the wayside,” said Woodman. “And I go back to 24/7 availability not only to the organization, but to anybody. …There’s a lot of people counting on me, and I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of support from the community. My dedication to this organization is unparalleled. It’s been 35 years. I’ve proven my loyalty to the office and to Summit County.”
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