Lora Thomas: Ethics complaint highlights bitter feud between coroner and sheriff

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Lora Thomas.
Any way you slice it, the very, very, very strained relationship between Douglas County Coroner Lora Thomas and Sheriff Dave Weaver can't be good for homicide investigations in the county. Both sides have accused the other of interfering with and jeopardizing their work, and now a backer of the sheriff has filed an ethics complaint against Thomas that raises questions about the use -- or misuse -- of public resources in both agencies.

Kory Nelson, a Denver assistant city attorney and Parker resident, wants Douglas County officials to investigate Thomas for, among other things, allegedly engaging in political campaigning during office hours. Nelson is a member of Douglas County Residents for Professional Law Enforcement, or DC ProLaw, which is pushing Resolution 1A, a term-limit exemption on the ballot that would allow Weaver to run for a third term as sheriff.

Nelson claims that last month Thomas was photographed by "two high-ranking command officers" of the sheriff's office on a Friday morning in the parking lot of the Christiansen Justice Center in Castle Rock as she was handing out "No Way on 1A" signs "to an unknown elderly white male."

Thomas says she hadn't yet gone into her office that day and had agreed to meet the man in a public place to give him the signs. She says the county vehicle that drew up next to her had heavily tinted windows, but she suspects Weaver was inside -- and wonders why "high-ranking command officers" were expending public resources and equipment conducting surveillance of her.

"I've never been stalked by so many men in my life," she says.

dave weaver.JPG
Dave Weaver.
Nelson says the parking lot incident is only the latest in a series of issues about the coroner's conduct. "I believe in 1A, but beyond that, I'm not too happy with her ethics," he says. "There's a pattern of behavior of hers that causes me great concern."

Thomas, a former Colorado State Patrol major who was newly elected to the coroner's post this year, says the bad blood with Weaver goes back to well before last fall's election. She was instrumental in defeating a mill-levy hike that Weaver wanted, she explains, and the sheriff backed her opponent, Carter Lord, in the Republican primary. (Weaver has denied endorsing Lord; Thomas says she has pictures of the sheriff embracing Lord at a campaign event.) Upon her election, Thomas discovered that she and her staff would no longer have access to areas of the justice center controlled by the sheriff's office, including gym facilities and vending machines.

That chilly welcome was followed by a bizarre incident last February, when Weaver complained that Thomas had released sensitive information about a double-murder investigation -- after first offering to withhold it if she and her staff could get their gym and vending privileges back. Thomas later admitted to 7News that the move was "a terrible mistake on my part."

Nelson brings up the gaffe in his ethics complaint and also mentions another sore point between the coroner and the sheriff -- the effort of coroner's investigators to search death scenes and seize items without a search warrant. Thomas says the sheriff isn't her supervisor, and that his efforts to keep her investigators from doing their work at death scenes is contrary to practice in other counties. "It's impacting my office's ability to do our work," she says. "The fact is, no one outranks a coroner at a death scene. And we have a wonderful working relationship with all the other law enforcement agencies in the county."

A memo from a deputy county attorney opines that Thomas "does have an independent duty to investigate the cause of death" but that she is "likely subject to the same Fourth Amendment restrictions as law enforcement officers." Historically, the deputy adds, coroner's investigators have waited for sheriff's officers to obtain a search warrant before launching their investigation. Thomas has consulted attorneys hired by the Colorado Coroners Association and expects an opinion from the Colorado Attorney General's Office to clarify the matter soon.

Nelson speculates that the coroner's opposition to 1A stems in part from her own ambition to be sheriff. "She knows she has no chance against the incumbent," he says.

Thomas declines to discuss her future ambitions. "I believe in seeing where I fit best," she says, "and right now I fit very well in the coroner's office."

More from our News archive: "Douglas County school allows parents to opt out of letting their kids watch President Obama's speech to the nation's schoolchildren."


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13 comments
YoungGun
YoungGun

I support Sheriff Weaver. As a new-comer to this story, and reading/listening to a few articles on it, it sounds to me like this woman is stretching her limits on power and should stick to the books/laws/constitution in any situation. Weaver is an honest man, and we the people of Douglas County put him in as sheriff. I heard miss Lora might consider the Sheriff's position in  2014...this is why Weaver wants another term.

Kioti
Kioti

The latest Douglas County News Press Opinion page had a letter from Lora Thomas signed as the 'Douglas County Coroner' urging voters to vote against 1A that would extend the term of the DC Sherriff.  I thought it was illegal or at least unethical for an elected official to campaign for ballot issues using their official title. I guess this would be especially so when the individual might be interested in running for that elected position if the term was not extended. 

kat
kat

For adults, these people seem to acting very childish and petty.  And both parties seem to be misappropriating funds from the sounds of it (either campaigning on business time or surveillance by law enforcement for personal reason outside an official capacity).

Regardless, they both seem to have acted irresponsibly - the coroner by supposedly releasing the double-murder investigation info or the sherriff's department by supposedly "throwing a trantrum" and essentially saying that "this is our side and no coroner people are allowed!" like children with a fort.

Whether this crap is completely true or not, I really have no idea and I could frankly care less.  The reason for this dear friends is that we are told from childhood to grow up, act your age, and become an adult.  But if this (and many other instances of adults being d-bags) is what being an adult means, then forgive me if I would rather be a child with a high IQ.  At the least, at their most innocent, for the most part, children are honest.

MO
MO

The problem seems to be obvious to the reasonable person.  The Douglas County Coroner seems to be neglecting her fiduciary responsibility to the citizens and to the Oath she took to defend The U.S. Constitution.  Amendment 4 was written to protect the security and privacy of individuals, by obtaining a search warrant listing specific evidence the entity requesting it is seeking.  In a murder scene, the Sheriff is in charge of the crime scene and release of evidence when it appropriate.  The coroner, who admits trying to bargain with the Sheriff not to release information about the crime in exchange for access to a vending machine and a gymnasium, potentially jeopardized the legal outcome of the murder, an atrocity in and of itself.  Releasing that information while the criminals have not been apprehended is negligence and contempt for the law.  Anyone who has ever worked for a government organization knows that political activities cease when on government property.  This is blatant abuse of power.  Who will bring it to an end?

Logic
Logic

It is difficult to ignore this post.... MO, as a reasonable person, it looks to me like there is clearly still some bad blood (*pun) between these two folks since the Sheriff's pal, Mr. Lord, lost last year's Coroner's race.  Professionalism directs these two officials to cooperate and it's a shame bitterness is getting in the way.

As for "political activities" ceasing on government property and the supposed abuse of power, how do you mean??  If the Coronor wants to meet someone in a public place (your word: government property), there is nothing wrong with it!  If the Sheriff meets a guy in the parking lot to pick up a new tool belt from a Craiglist seller, I doubt you'd have a problem.  In this case, the government property you speak of is PUBLIC PROPERTY - not Area-51.  If meeting people in public parking lots, on your own time is "blatant abuse of power", I can't imagine how terrible you consider the actions of the "'two high-ranking command officers' of the sheriff's office" who were conducting surveillance on the Coroner....

Logic
Logic

More DRAMA!  As a DougCo voter, the more I hear how desperate this Sheriff is to hold on to his job, the less I respect him.  HE'S AN ELECTED PUBLIC SERVANT - and term limits exist for a reason!  He's been Sheriff for the time limited by law and that time is up.  If he's as fantastic Mr. Ali claims above, he'll have no trouble moving on - either to the private sector or possibly to yet another elected office.  If he's such a great guy, his friends should be biting at the bit for the opportunity to hire him after his term as Sheriff is up, right?

I wonder why he, and his friends, are so desperate to CHANGE the law so he can continue to keep a position in government that is specifically designed to have turnover.  Again, term limits exist for a reason - IT DISCOURAGES CORRUPTION.  Ask yourself why going through the hassle of passing a ballot initiative so that one man may keep his job for a few more years is worth all trouble.

Granted, if I only had a high school diploma in this economy, I'd be desperate to keep a cushy county job as well...

Miguel Ali
Miguel Ali

I got to know both Lora Thomas and Sheriff Weaver well in running for Colorado State Treasurer

Let me just make this clear - I like both Thomas and Weaver

With that said, I would have a difficult time believing that Sheriff Weaver practices any form of corruption or bad politics - I'm happy to evaluate and listen to proof, but in his conduct, Sheriff Weaver is a true boy scout

Logic
Logic

I've never known a boy scout to whine so much!

JW
JW

This is an example of journalism gone bad. The complaint filed against Coroner Thomas vy Nelson did not mention or bring in Sheriff Weaver once. Headlines that read like this and then an absurd claim that Sheriff Weaver was in a vehicle with heavily tinted windows doing surveillance is wrong and libelous. Coroner Thomas was elected to do a job -not campaign against giving voters in Douglas County the right to choose who they want to serve and protect them. The You Tube video, speaking at Rotary Club and signs during work hours on County property is the point Mr. Nelson was making. As long as folks can make ridiculous claims to deflect the attention off of the real issue and drag an honorable, good man down, this continues. Enough. Sheriff Weaver has served this county with integrity and honor. Good traits others in elected positions everywhere should follow.

TG
TG

I heard she was on her time in her own vehicle.  Really,  I hope you are not wasting the taxpayers money and can prove something.  This is about yes or no on 1A. 

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