Concern over Ouray County Sheriff Lance FitzGerald’s arrest on DUI allegations has prompted the county’s Republican party to begin recall efforts.
FitzGerald, who was voted into office by a difference of 11 votes, was accused of DUI after a night on the town with his girlfriend, Jamie Johnson, turned sour last year; this case is pending. Johnson was accused of domestic violence and spent approximately five days in jail.
More recently, during a County Sheriffs of Colorado conference in Loveland, late in the night on Jan. 7, both FitzGerald and Johnson ended up calling 911. After the Loveland Police Department responded to their room in the Embassy Suites, officers had the two seperate for the evening. The police report states that the female was very intoxicated and that the male had admitted to a beer, among numerous other allegations. The incident was closed by the police as a verbal disturbance, with nothing further pending.
Based on FitzGerald’s 2019 DUI case, Ouray County Republicans voted to start a recall petition of FitzGerald. The recall effort and the Loveland incident were first reported by the Ouray County Plaindealer.
“A blood alcohol of 0.133, if he was needed he would have had to drive drunk or say I’m drinking and can’t respond, that is not acceptable in my opinion,” John R. Mitchell, chairman of the Ouray County Republican Party, told the Montrose Daily Press Thursday.
Mitchell was referring to allegations that on Nov. 27, FitzGerald was driving while intoxicated. He called the Ouray County Sheriff's Office to allege Johnson had struck him during an argument as they drove to his home. The responding deputy noted signs of intoxication and, upon advice of the undersheriff, returned to the home after arresting Johnson to also arrest FitzGerald, who Johnson alleged had been driving while intoxicated.
FitzGerald allegedly blew 0.133 on a breath test, but also reportedly said he began drinking again once he had returned home.
A special prosecutor was appointed to handle the case. FitzGerald is set for arraignment Feb. 13. Johnson is set for court March 5.
When asked if he was aware of the new information regarding FitzGerald that took place at the sheriff’s conference Mitchell said: “I am going to stick to what shows that he cannot do his job, and that was the previous incident. Hopefully he will just resign in the meantime, and we won’t have to do this. This is a lot of work to do, you have to walk around in the snow door to door, and it is expensive.”
Although the party hopes to have the recall petition drawn up by the end of the month, scheduling requirements likely mean that it will be June before it is official.
A few Democrats agreed with the recall effort, according to Mitchell.
“Word got around pretty quickly and we heard from three elected officials in the county who agree with the recall effort, but I won’t tell you who they were,” Mitchell said. “I don’t want to cost the county money, but a drunk sheriff showing up could cost the county too.”
Recall backer Colleen Hollenbeck, Ouray County coroner, was reached on vacation.
“I hope we won’t have to go to a full vote on a recall, because it is so hard and so expensive for our community and time consuming. The deciding blow for me was the recent behavior at the sheriffs convention,” she said.
“There’s full knowledge that this man has a problem with drinking and I am not confident that he can separate the in work hours and non-work hours,” Hollenbeck alleged. “That can be a problem for our county. If he has done something in the course of his off duties, and is impaired, it puts our county at risk for all sorts of things.”
She said she hoped FitzGerald would just resign.
“Our community did not elect him with an understanding of how bad his (alleged) problem is, and I’m hoping that once Lance understands that his community is no longer in support of this type of lifestyle, that he will resign.”
“He is an elected official representing all of us in our county and equally important is that he represents all of law enforcement, once he sees that the people who elected him do not want this type of representation, he needs to step down.
“It's daunting looking at how hard this is going to be, but when is doing the right thing easy?” Hollenbeck said.
Calls made to the Ouray County Sheriff’s Office were not returned by deadline.