Sheriff’s candidate Sam Sparks has encountered a few major pitfalls along the campaign trail, but he emphatically declares he’s still in the running.
Despite pending charges of animal cruelty, and a recent suspension from his job as a Mancos deputy marshal, the independent candidate has not even considered withdrawing from the race, he told the Free Press.
“Absolutely not,” he said.
Sparks faces one felony and one misdemeanor charge of animal cruelty and two petty-offense charges of official misconduct for shooting a dog he said was attacking him on March 8, while he was on duty as deputy marshal. The trial for Jan. 29, he said.
More recently, the Mancos Town Board voted 5-1 on Sept. 13 to put Sparks on paid administrative leave, allegedly because of a statement by District Attorney Jim Wilson that Sparks gave “possibly impeachable” testimony during a drug trial in June.
Sparks firmly denied that he did anything wrong in that case. “I did not lie under oath,” he said. “As that case is being investigated, I can’t comment on it, but I can tell you that I did not lie under oath and the truth will come out.”
Sparks said he understands that voters want an explanation of the events behind the charges but said he is constrained from commenting while the case is active. “Yes, they do, they deserve an explanation, but on the advice of my attorney I can’t comment other than I did not lie under oath — I would not lie under oath.”
He said he hopes the matter will be cleared up soon, “hopefully before the election, and I think it will be.”
In the meantime, Sparks wants voters to consider his qualifications and platform when they go to the polls Nov. 7.
Sparks is running against incumbent Sheriff Gerald Wallace, a Republican who walloped challenger Bill Conner 82-18 percent in the August primary.
That might intimidate some candidates, but Sparks is not deterred.
“I think I could do a better job or I wouldn’t be running for the office,” he said.
Sparks said the two major planks in his platform are taking a much stronger stance against drugs, and hiring an animal- control officer for the county.
“My No. 1 plank in my platform is an aggressive drug policy,” he said. “I think methamphetamine needs to be addressed. It’s a severe problem here and in the U.S. as a whole.”
Sparks said his drug approach would have three parts. First would be expanding education in the schools.
“Right now kids are getting a six-week program and I don’t think that’s sufficient,” he said.
Second, he would adopt a policy of “diligent and aggressive enforcement” of drug laws.
Last, he would stress rehabilitation.
“Once we kind of get [the user] cleaned up, if a committee or the services think a client is sincere about trying to get off of it,” he or she would receive treatment, he said.
He said Mancos has a serious drug problem and not enough is being done about it. “They’re paying the drug task force a thousand dollars a month and there haven’t been any drug busts over there. There’s been two raids. I don’t understand why they’re not being more aggressive.”
As deputy marshal, he arrested two meth dealers, he said. “We are working on it, the Mancos marshal’s office is, but the drug dealers don’t just stay in Mancos. They move around.”
The other plank in Sparks’ platform is a county animal-control officer. The position was eliminated by former Sheriff Joey Chavez to save money.
“Around $3,000 worth of sheep were killed at the livestock barn this year,” Sparks said. He would like the animal-control officer to also work as an agricultural officer who would know fence, livestock, and water laws.
Sparks also wants to restore Community Corrections, a program cut by Wallace soon after he was appointed last year because it was losing some $15,000 per month.
“I think we need to bring it back in some shape or form,” Sparks said. “I would like to make Community Corrections a multi-function facility, with detox and a homeless shelter.”
Sparks also would like to see a holding facility for mentally ill clients.
“Right now all we have is the jail and I don’t think that’s the right place for a mental patient. They need a facility where they can be under 24-hour supervision.”
A secure psychiatric unit will open in Durango soon, but Sparks said Montezuma County still needs a place to hold mentally ill clients until they can be transported to Durango or Pueblo.
Sparks said his serious interest in law enforcement began in 1998, when Cortez Police Officer Dale Claxton was gunned down by by three men who escaped into the desert.
“I joined the sheriff’s posse in 1990 and when Dale was killed I became actively involved in law enforcement. I started doing ride-alongs with deputies and securing crime scenes for the sheriff.”
Sparks graduated from the lawenforcement academy in 2003. He went to work for the sheriff’s office for a year, then resigned and was hired by the Mancos marshal’s office, first parttime, then full-time in May 2005.
Sparks said he wants to give back to the county, which has been his home for 49 years.
“I grew up here, my kids grew up here and I have a grandson growing up here and I just feel like we can’t stop change but we can help guide it. The people that move here like our way of life and I feel that needs to be safeguarded.
“I don’t need a job or anything, I just want to give back to my community.”
Sparks said he would have handled the Rally in the Rockies motorcycle rally differently than Wallace did. Wallace and other area law officers, voiced grave concerns about the rally, which sought to move at the last minute to Echo Basin Ranch near Mancos. The commissioners denied it a permit and it was shut down.
“Law enforcement — I think there was a negative attitude from the very start and I would have tried to work with everybody so we could have had a safe rally and had the added income to the county,” he said.
However, Sparks said he agrees with the neighbors that the road to Echo Basin is a problem. “Whether we need to move [the rally] to the fairgrounds, I don’t know.”
Sparks, a former businessman and still a rancher, said many locals know him and his character.
“People know me and know that what I say is what I mean. Regardless of this latest accusation, I am a man of my word and it upsets me that I have been accused of being untruthful because I grew up in the old school. I still believe a man’s word is his bond and I will do what I say.”
Sparks said he thinks the allegation of possible perjury is politically motivated. Asked who would be behind it, he replied, “That I’m not going to say. I think the voters can figure that out.”
He expressed frustration at not being able to say more. “They make these accusations and make it into an active case and then I can’t even defend myself. I think it’s all political, I really do, but I can’t say anything.”
Sparks said he wants to run a clean campaign. “I’m not going to get into the mudslinging part of it like the primary was. I’m just not going to go there. I want to win the election on my merits and my qualities.”