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A criminal investigation and complicated professional history loom over the Adams County sheriff election

The call for shots fired near a parking lot was not an extraordinary event on a Friday night in unincorporated Adams County.

Sheriff Rick Reigenborn wanted to go anyway.

He punched the gas pedal and the engine revved on his black Chevy Tahoe.

“We’ll go over to that Pontiac call,” he said, referring to the street where he was heading. He switched on his sirens. “We’re just a few minutes away.”

The speedometer began to climb as he pulled onto Interstate 76. At the high point, it read 110 miles per hour.

And though Reigenborn occasionally paused to listen to his police radio, he never really stopped answering questions from two reporters along for the ride.

“I tried to look at things and go, ‘what can I do better, how can I test better? What am I lacking in?’” he said minutes before responding to the shots fired call. “Every day is testing day and every day you should be doing your best and performing at your peak every day.”

On this Friday night in April, the Rick Reigenborn of patrol deputy days was in his full glory. The one who always wanted to be in the action. The one with a trail of mistresses and divorces behind him and a shrine to Captain America in his office. A metro county sheriff who still responds to calls on the radio, happy to chase auto theft suspects on foot and, preferably, on camera.

But now he runs the fifth biggest sheriff’s office in the state and is facing his first re-election campaign.

His history, his seeming desire for attention and his lack of management experience when he got the job four years ago are giving his opponents plenty of fodder.

It started on his second day as sheriff in 2019, when Reigenborn handed sealed envelopes to 11 of the department’s top-level commanders. The letters put them on administrative leave and required a meeting with the sheriff before they could return to work.

Then he locked them out of the building until he could personally assess their loyalty.

The reason? They openly supported and campaigned for his opponent in the election.

Some of those experienced commanders did not keep their jobs, either by choice or through what they claim was effective termination. Then Reigenborn replaced a handful of them with officers with troubled pasts, including criminal charges, lengthy disciplinary histories, and dismissals from prior law enforcement jobs.

Now, as he faces a primary challenge for re-election, Reigenborn’s office is under investigation by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for discrepancies in record-keeping in the training division, the sheriff has brought attention to himself by live-streaming a high-speed chase and signing a deal with the controversial television program “COPS.”

Even Reigenborn admits he has made mistakes.

“Am I gonna make mistakes? Sure. Can I learn from ’em? I should. And I have,” he said. “Kind of like in a marriage there are some things that are just unforgivable. If you do these things, we just have to go our separate ways. And so maybe we can remain friends and that’s hopeful, but sometimes it’s like a bad divorce and people are just angry and bitter.”

Despite all of the internal upheaval, Reigenborn points to a number of successes on his watch including the completion of a mothballed DNA lab, the launch of a co-responder program and getting the Adams County commissioners to grant funding to hire another 17 patrol deputies for the growing county.

“There were a lot of things that were left a mess and had to be fixed,” he said. “I think we’ve done a lot of great things. People can sit around and talk about the past and here I am trying to tell you within a very short period of time, look at what we accomplished … We did a lot in three years.”

Colorado sheriffs are responsible for enforcing the law in unincorporated parts of their counties — anywhere not patrolled by a city police department. They also run county jails, and are responsible for getting inmates to and from court and providing safe conditions and health care for those inmates.

Measuring an agency’s performance is difficult. Multiple factors beyond a sheriff’s control can contribute to rising or falling crime rates. And some benchmarks, like vacancy rates or inmate lawsuits, are currently a challenge for most, if not all, agencies.

But not every law enforcement agency is the subject of a criminal investigation, and one of those is now hanging over Reigenborn’s office as he seeks re-election. It was launched in January by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the Peace Officers Standard and Training, or POST, Board into a complaint of fraud.

Reigenborn confirmed that state investigators are looking into a complaint that his former undersheriff and director of training falsified training records.

Each year, every certified law enforcement officer in the state is required to complete at least 24 hours of continuing education courses, to keep them up-to-date on changes in law and techniques.

State officials received a complaint that former Training Division Chief Mickey Bethel logged on to an online training program on behalf of Undersheriff Tommie McLallen and completed required training hours for him.

McLallen, whose relationship with Bethel went way back in southern Colorado, told Reigenborn at the time that it was a “misunderstanding.”

The investigation has been underway for more than five months without producing charges. But Reigenborn acknowledged that even a hint of impropriety around his senior staff fulfilling their training hours is a major problem, and a personal affront, especially as he’s up for re-election.

“Completely betrayed,” Reigenborn said. “Especially because those training hours are so easy to get.”

Bethel and McLallen were reported to state investigators by a whistleblower inside the office, Reigenborn said.

The sheriff said he wished that the whistleblower, who he knows but would not name, would have come to him first. The individual is still working at the Sheriff’s Office.

“You would typically think they would come to me first to see if I would handle the situation,” Reigenborn said. “That’s the unfortunate part, I guess. He thought my friendship with those folks was stronger … but had he come to me, there wouldn’t have been any other recourse.”

Reigenborn said he asked the whistleblower if there were any reports of wrongdoing that implicated him.

“I asked him, are you implicating that I did something wrong?” Reigenborn said. “And he said, ‘No not at all, those two did.’ He told me that I’m not implicated in it.”

Reigenborn said he isn’t part of any investigation “as far as I know” and that he checked twice at the end of last year to make sure he had his required 24 hours of training to keep up his state certification.

CPR News requested copies of all the training records for Reigenborn, Bethel and McLallen. Both Reigenborn and McLallen appeared to have completed more hours of training in 2021 than is required, according to an Excel spreadsheet provided by the Flatrock Training Center. Bethel’s hours for 2021 were incomplete. Most of Bethel’s records shared in the open records request were hours completed in 2019.

CPR News was unable to verify the accuracy of the records provided.

CBI spokeswoman Susan Medina confirmed the investigation, but said she couldn’t say anything further because it is ongoing. It was first reported in January.

Four years ago, Reigenborn, who had never been promoted beyond a patrol sergeant, stunned the Adams County Sheriff’s Office when he won the 2018 election, unseating the incumbent sheriff, Mike McIntosh.

Reigenborn said in a deposition in the lawsuit against him that he carefully watched which sheriff’s department employees contributed to McIntosh’s campaign. When he won, Reigenborn decided to have his newly minted undersheriff order the loyal out of the building, and take their access cards.