New policies, faces at ACET after audit |

New policies, faces at ACET after audit

Drug task force ready to move forward

Zach Fridell

— The All Crimes Enforcement Team drug task force, beleaguered with recent problems, has added new officers and implemented new provisions after an audit from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

Craig Police Department Chief Walt Vanatta requested the audit of the drug task force in the wake of two charges of officer misconduct in the past year.

In the report, CBI officer Curt Wil­­liams, from the Grand Junction office, wrote that several procedural changes could be made to improve the way ACET operates and to tighten controls, particularly for how money used to buy drugs is handled.

Task force Commander Gar­­­ret Wiggins said he started making those improvements even before the final report was released.

Among the changes recommended in the report are a better accounting system for money used in controlled drug buys and less leeway for officers to keep money with them.

"Under the current procedures, each Task Force Investi­gator is given a perpetual cash fund," Williams reported. "Task Force Commander Wiggins said when an agent is assigned to the unit, he/she is issued $500 for 'cash on hand.'"

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Williams criticized the practice, writing that it is standard for task forces to check out money only as needed.

"Money can only be checked out to do a specific deal. If it does not take place, the money is returned. It is not kept by an agent to be used as needed," he wrote, underlining the last line.

As a response, ACET changed its procedure manual to prohibit the commander from handing out funds at his discretion.

The report also recommended that Wiggins have regular contact with confidential informants at least once a year, and preferably twice a year, to verify meetings reported by officers.

Wiggins said that provision is not always applicable because it's rare for ACET to keep a confidential informant for more than a couple of months, but if they do find a source they wish to use for an extended period of time, he will meet with that person as recommended.

Personal tension

In his initial investigation of the task force, Williams said he found that personal tension was decreasing the task force's ability to perform its duties.

"It became readily apparent that there are serious negative factors existing between the task force commander and the task force executive board that limit the effectiveness of the ACET task force," he wrote.

Wiggins said the personal tensions existed between only himself and Vanatta and did not extend to the rest of the board.

Williams "kind of generalized that category there, which I didn't think should have been generalized the way he did," Wiggins said.

Wiggins and Vanatta both said the men worked through their differences through a series of meetings, either agreeing to disagree or coming to understand each other.

"An overall theme of that audit is we need to improve communication between the board and the task force commander," Vanatta said.

Vanatta and Wiggins have resolved their differences and are ready to move on, Vanatta said.

The task force comprises Wiggins and two officers — one from the Craig Police Department and one from the Moffat County Sheriff's Office. Both offices assigned new ACET task force members this week, Sgt. Marvin Cameron from the police and Deputy Bhrent Shock from the Sheriff's Office.

Former officers Ken Johnson and Bob Brabo were charged with crimes they were accused of committing while working for the drug task force.

Johnson is scheduled to go to trial in May on charges of attempting to influence a public servant, accessory to a crime and embezzlement of public property.

A former Craig Police De­­partment detective, Johnson is accused of lying to police during an internal investigation about a relationship he had with a Craig woman, aiding that woman in violating her probation for drug charges, providing her with information about ongoing law enforcement investigations, and giving her a laptop computer and other equipment used by ACET.

In early December, Brabo, also a former Craig Police De­­partment officer, pleaded guilty to stealing $500 of ACET money. Brabo was assigned to ACET at the time of the theft.