Coroner's opponent charges "malicious, outrageous conduct"
There's not much respect and affection to be found between former colleagues David Shaklee and Jim Hibbard. The controversial Adams County coroner whose strained dealings with other agencies and his own staff is the subject of this week's cover story, "The Body Shop," Hibbard used to work for the county sheriff's office -- where, at one point, he supervised Shaklee, now a detective there. Shaklee ran as a Republican candidate for coroner in 2002 and 2006, losing both times to Hibbard, a Democrat.
These were unusually spirited and hotly contested campaigns for what is widely seen as -- well, a moribund job. In the 2006 race, Shaklee raised questions about the high turnover in Hibbard's office, the chief deputy coroner's involvement in a cremation service and Hibbard's remark to an employee that the cheapest way to handle her husband's colon cancer was with a bullet. Hibbard characterized the bullet remark as a joke and fought back with allegations of his own concerning Shaklee's conduct and character.
Shaklee felt strongly enough about the attacks that he filed a defamation suit against the coroner. Its dismissal, on grounds of governmental immunity, was upheld a few weeks ago by the Colorado Court of Appeals. But Shaklee is still steaming about that campaign. In response to an inquiry from Westword, he submitted a detailed written response, while hastening to add that he was speaking only for himself, not in his capacity as an employee of the Adams County Sheriff's Office. Read what he has to say after the break:
During our campaign against one another in the last election cycle, Coroner Hibbard submitted a letter written on Adams County Coroner letterhead to the Sheriff of Adams County. In this letter, he alleged all sorts of wrongdoing on my part and even hinted at criminal wrongdoing.
This letter caused an internal investigation into my activities since I was and continue to serve as a Detective with the Adams County Sheriff's Office. Ultimately, as a result of this investigation all allegations made by Coroner Hibbard were determined to be unfounded.
After submitting this fabricated letter to the Sheriff, Coroner Hibbard followed that up with writing an online editorial to the Brighton Blade newspaper asking voters to speak to Detective Shaklee about his "internal affairs investigation"... the one that Jim Hibbard invented in the first place.
At the conclusion of the election, Coroner Hibbard couldn't even win gracefully. He lodged a formal complaint against my election committee to the Colorado Secretary of State alleging campaign finance violations because I had paid the Colorado Bureau of Investigations "fingerprint" fee out of my own pocket for fingerprints that I needed to submit in order to become a candidate. This was done before my campaign committee was even formed, but Hibbard alleged that I should be fined heavily. He dropped the false claim against me upon my hiring an attorney.
I decided after his antics pertaining to the letter to my employer and his editorial and the continuing pattern of outrageous conduct by the false claim to the Colorado Secretary of State, I would go forward with a civil lawsuit against him and his office. I believed his conduct was so malicious and outrageous and in my mind, clearly was an attempt on his part to defame my character and commit libel by causing false information to be published about me. So far, he has been able to hide behind the "governmental immunity act."
It is truly a shame that an elected official in Adams County can get away with the way he treats citizens and even his own employees with his "management by intimidation" style of leadership. His office has what I believe to be the highest turnover in employees of any elected official... probably in the history of Adams County... well over 400 percent. To my knowledge, there is not a single employee who remains in Coroner Hibbard's Office since he was elected, including his chief, forensic pathologists and countless investigators. What a waste for Adams County to provide training for Coroner's employees to go elsewhere in these tough economic times.
The Coroner should be the most compassionate person in county government, and Coroner Hibbard continually demonstrates that he is the least compassionate person in county government.
David A. Shaklee
Former Republican Candidate, Adams County Coroner