Audio recordings of Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell’s staff meetings reveal a department that has faced problems of rumors and performance. They also provide a glimpse into the Montezuma County sheriff’s management style.
The Cortez Journal obtained a series of recordings made at squad and patrol meetings last summer. On June 25, 2013, Spruell posed the question, “What are you supposed to do?”
“To make you look good,” those in attendance replied in unison.
“Make me look good,” Spruell reiterated.
The recordings were released on the condition of anonymity.
Undersheriff Lynda Carter described the exchange as an “ongoing joke” between Spruell and his staff.
“It lightens the mood in what can be a stressful job,” Carter said.
“Yes, the sheriff does refer to deputies making him look good; through good police work and fair, consistent interactions with the public,” Carter said.“He always remarks that by doing their job the best they can, they will look good, and so will he.”
In an Aug. 1, 2013, meeting, Spruell tells staff that the agency started sliding in recent months, because his “expectations were low.” He vowed to those in attendance that he was going to raise the bar and “start kicking some ass.”
“If you’re starting rumors, stop,” Spruell said. “If you’re listening to rumors, stop. And if you’re spreading rumors, come see me because I have a job for you, and it won’t be with this agency.”
Carter said that the department’s written policy prohibits employees from spreading or starting rumors. She said such actions are unprofessional and conduct unbecoming of a law officer.
“If rumors were repeated while on duty, it could appear that it is a remark or opinion of the department or the sheriff, and that is unacceptable,” Carter said.
Carter acknowledged that Spruell’s comment of helping someone look for another job was true. She said that employees who continuously violate policy will be fired.
At that same August meeting, which Carter described as a promotion ceremony, Spruell admonished his staff to stand united, instructing deputies that they should only be on “one train.” He warned staff that if they started leaning their heads too far out that train, then he’d “cut it off.”
“Get on board or get out of the way,” Spruell said.
Since the August meeting, six deputies and five jailers retired, resigned or were fired, according to Montezuma County human resource records.
“We do not discuss terminations of former employees, but no one was terminated because of any ultimatum,” said Carter.
“I can attest that since I have been here, no one has been terminated or asked to resign without a very good reason,” she said.
Carter also said that Spruell’s administration has had fewer resignations, terminations or retirements than either of the two previous administrations. She said that former Sheriff Joey Chavez had 54 leave his agency in his first year of office, and former Sheriff Gerald Wallace had 65 leave during his tenure.
The Cortez Journal could not verify Carter’s claims or the numbers of those who resigned or were fired.
“As sheriff, I want to try and retain personnel,” Spruell recently posted on his Facebook page. “That’s one of my priorities.”
According to Spruell, 39 of his employees have resigned or retired, and four were terminated during his inaugural term.
“We are an office of 74 people,” Spruell said. “This is a fairly low turnover rate, just more than 10 per year.”
According to county human resource records, two deputies and nine jailers were released from the agency in 2012, and eight deputies and nine jailers were released in 2013. The sheriff’s office recently denied a public records request from The Cortez Journal to examine employee performance evaluations and internal affairs reports.
Last month, Spruell posted on his Facebook page that he sent an email to personnel in regard to sinking morale. In part, the email stated that he wanted to assure employees that the community would support them as long as they remained ethical and honest.
“Continue to remember, this is not us against them,” the email stated. “It is us working with them.”