Distinct candidates | SteamboatToday.com

Distinct candidates

Wiggins, Wall bring contrasting backgrounds, philosophies to sheriff's race

Gary Wall, the Democratic candidate for Routt County sheriff, served as Vail's police chief during the 1970s and currently is a private investigator.
Tyler Arroyo

Gary Wall

Age: 65

Occupation: Private investigator; Gary Wall and Associates, LLC

Political experience: Wall ran for Port Townsend, Wash., city council in the 1980s, but was not elected.


Underage drinking: Wall thinks there are better solutions than "putting every kid that gets a minor in possession charge in the criminal justice system." Advocates preventative measures such as school counseling, intervention, talking to parents and education.

Employee turnover: Blames current administration for handling personnel matters poorly. Thinks department suffers from poor morale. Believes managerial and people skills will help him recruit and retain quality, professional people.

Profiling: Traffic stops based on age, ethnicity or any other classification is against the Constitution. Believes juveniles in Routt County continue to be targeted and harassed by police in Routt County.

The role of the sheriff: "If I am elected I will make sure my officers uphold the U.S. Constitution and respect people's civil liberties and rights. My officers would not be condescending or act disapprovingly of someone who exercises a constitutional right. That in no way means I won't enforce the law. That means we will be enforcing the law professionally, fairly and we will be held accountable for our actions."

Amendment 44 (the legalization of less than 1 ounce of marijuana): Opposed to Amendment 44. Issue is too complicated and federal laws still would supercede state laws when it comes to marijuana possession. Believes the Legislature and Congress should re-examine drug laws and bring them in line with our current social culture. "There are many more drugs out there that are legal but that are more harmful than marijuana, like alcohol."

Garrett Wiggins

Age: 40

Occupation: Police officer/ narcotics investigator for the Steamboat Springs Police Department

Political experience: None

On the issues

Underage drinking: Treat cases individually. Advocates increased education awareness programs. When education doesn't work, then "take a firm stance."

Employee turnover: Pervavsive problem. Would look to enhance pay and benefits. "I think employees need to see leaders doing everything they can to make their lives better. I will always go to bat for my employees."

Profiling: Profiling is illegal and doesn't work. "There is no profile for a drug dealer or a drunk driver or a terrorist. We may have a knowledge of a crime that may be going on, but we aren't going to stop someone without probable cause first. But we will stop that person for a minor traffic infraction even if we may have an alternative motive in mind."

The role of the sheriff: To serve and protect and maintain peace and order. Wants to involve the community more in understanding the work of the sheriff's office and to strengthen the relationship between the community and the office.

Amendment 44 (the legalization of less than 1 ounce of marijuana): Not in favor of Amendment 44. "Studies and statistics show that legalizing any amount of marijuana for adults leads to increased use in the youth. Besides, marijuana is not a safe alternative to alcohol."

— Routt County voters have very distinct choices when selecting their next sheriff.

Democrat Gary Wall touts his experience as a leader in law enforcement, including stints as a detective, sergeant and police chief, experience his Republican opponent Garrett Wiggins doesn’t have. Wiggins, a police officer and narcotics investigator with the Steamboat Springs police department, points out that Wall’s law enforcement experience came nearly 30 years ago and that he hasn’t been in uniform since leaving the Vail police chief’s position in 1979.

Wiggins is a traditional sheriff’s candidate, an officer who has worked his way through the police ranks. He said he has never worked for the defense of criminals, a direct jab at Wall, a private investigator who works for defense attorneys.

Wall is a non-traditional sheriff’s candidate. Civil liberties and upholding the constitution are the cornerstones of his campaign, and he is best known in Routt County for his sweeping criticism of the county’s law enforcement agencies in 2003.

Make no mistake – Garrett Wiggins and Gary Wall have different backgrounds, different approaches and different plans for the sheriff’s office.

The experience question

Wiggins has been with the police department for five years. Before that, he worked as a patrol deputy for the sheriff’s office. Wiggins entered law enforcement at age 19 when he began working as a police officer in Florida. He briefly left the field to work as a manager for Swisher International, a large tobacco company.

Although he has been in law enforcement for more than 20 years, Wiggins has never had the title of detective, sergeant or lieutenant.

Despite not working as a uniformed officer for several decades, Wall thinks he is the more qualified man for the job because of the skills he gained in his roles as a detective sergeant and police chief in Aspen and Vail.

“The major difference between my

opponent and I is that he’s never been promoted to a supervisory position,” Wall said. “I point that out because it’s very significant that he’s never managed a law enforcement agency.

“I understand (Wiggins) has managed people in the private sector, but there is no comparing managing people in the private sector and managing law enforcement officers who carry deadly weapons and have the awesome powers of arrest.”

Wiggins, who said he has held leadership roles at the Steamboat Springs Police Department and in Florida, says on-the-job experience often is more important.

“I’ve been a field training officer for 14 to 16 years. That is a supervisory position,” he said. “It doesn’t carry the prefix of sergeant or lieutenant but it shows the administration has confidence in your leadership, your abilities and your decision making.”

Wiggins said he applied for a sergeant position at the Routt County Sheriff’s Office after working there for six months, but wasn’t surprised when he wasn’t selected for the job.

“I think it was appropriate they promoted someone who had been loyal to the department longer,” he said.

Wiggins said his managerial skills are easily transferable to a law enforcement agency because of the financial and personnel skills he would bring to the department.

“As a manager of any type you’re dealing with two elements: managing people and managing a budget,” he said. “Those are both things that are applicable to the (sheriff’s office). I am definitely ready to take on this position.”

While Wiggins has been employed as a certified police officer nearly his whole life, Wall worked for the Aspen and Vail police departments for 12 years. Wall worked as a private restaurant owner and most recently as a private investigator.

“I’ve been involved in the law enforcement field for over 40 years some way or another,” Wall said. “The fact that I haven’t been employed as an officer in no way means I haven’t kept up on case law or changes in police work.”

If elected, Wall is prepared to take re-certification classes. “The irony is that I should be teaching the classes instead of taking them,” he said.

A different view

In 2003, Wall led a campaign against the Steamboat Springs Police Department, Routt Coun-

ty Sheriff’s Office and Colorado State Patrol. Wall said he was approached by several residents who had concerns that the agencies were abusive of their powers.

During that campaign, Wall publicly criticized the agencies and won a reputation for being anti-law enforcement and soft on crime.

Wall said it’s an undeserved reputation.

“If police officers do their jobs correctly, people like me can’t undermine them,” he said. “During that campaign and when we spoke publicly at the (Steamboat Springs) City Council meetings, not once did anybody say anything about not enforcing the law. Law enforcement likes to portray that that’s what we were talking about but that’s not the case.”

Wall said he is critical of the ways in which officers often conduct themselves, not of the job itself.

Protecting people’s civil liberties, upholding the U.S. Constitution and not intimidating people into relinquishing those rights are central principles to Wall’s campaign.

“I’m not lenient on criminals,” he said. “What I stand for is good law enforcement and not for getting criminals off. I just don’t believe in taking shortcuts to get a conviction, nor do I believe in arresting and charging innocent people. It has everything to do with due process.”

Choosing sides

Wiggins said Wall’s implications that officers don’t believe in the U.S. Constitution or people’s civil liberties is preposterous.

“I take offense to him accusing law enforcement of violating people’s civil rights at will and on the whole,” Wiggins said. “That’s just not the case. When an officer violates a person’s civil rights, it creates distrust amongst the community, creates a huge liability and makes for bad case law.”

Wiggins said Wall’s work for the defense puts him on the wrong side of the law.

“I’ll be the first to say the defense counsel is a very important part of the whole judicial system, but typically in most peoples’ minds you either work for the defense or you work for the prosecution,” he said. “Our goal as the prosecution is to find the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

Working as a private investigator has taught him to do that, Wall said.

“I’m proud of what I do as a private investigator,” Wall said. “I have been involved in several cases where as a result of my work, charges against innocent people have been dropped or dismissed. All too often, officers put innocent people in jail and then (the inmates) sit there for months and months when sometimes they never should have been there.”

Looking to the future

Whichever man is elected, changes are sure to abound at the Sheriff’s Office.

The last time a Democrat held the office was for a short time in 1982. If Wiggins is elected it will be the first time a new Republican sheriff has entered the office in 12 years.

Wall said he is eager to see how the county votes, especially because he and Wiggins are taking some very different stances on the issues and how to change the Sheriff’s Office.

“My opponent represents the status quo. I do not,” Wall said. “I offer a more complex, professional, experienced view for the department, and I’m not confused about what I need to do when I get elected. I think Routt County is ready for that.”

Likewise, Wiggins, too, is ready to jump right into his new job if he is elected.

“I’m passionate about Routt County,” Wiggins said. “I want to be the one who changes the mentality at the Sheriff’s Office, and see that we do everything we can to ensure Routt County continues to be the place we all love to live,” he said.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User