Former Sheriff Pat Sullivan Arrested, Held in Patrick J. Sullivan Jr. Detention Facility

Former Arapahoe County Sheriff Patrick J. Sullivan, Jr., has been arrested and is being held on a $250,000 bond at the detention facility bearing his name, numerous media outlets reported tonight. Sullivan, a Republican, is accused of agreeing to trade methamphetamine for sex with a male acquaintance.

Former Sheriff Sullivan will appear in court Wednesday and will be charged with selling a controlled substance, a class 5 felony carrying a penalty of up to six years’ imprisonment.

During his distinguished law enforcement career, which began with the Littleton Police Department in 1962, Sullivan was generally regarded as upstanding, honorable, heroic, and trustworthy, according to most news reports. After the Columbine shootings, he took a prominent role in school security, including a stint as head of Cherry Creek schools’ security department. Sullivan was also nationally recognized as a cyberterrorism expert.

Interestingly, he was also a prominent opponent of medical marijuana, and served as co-chair of Citizens Against the Legalization of Marijuana. The opposition group helped to keep MMJ legalization off Colorado voters’ ballots in  1998.

(More after the jump)

Unusually for a Republican Sheriff, Sullivan was also known to favor gun control. Dave Kopel called the then-Sheriff a “Republocrat” in 1990 for his outspoken opposition to gun ownership by private citizens:


Republicans are supposed to support the Right to Bear Arms.  Yet the most powerful enemy of the Right to Bear Arms in Colorado is a Republican, Sheriff Pat Sullivan of Arapahoe County.  He refuses to grant licensed, trained citizens a permit to carry a gun for self-defense.  He abuses and misapplies federal law in order to harass gun collectors.  And in 1989, he tried to scare the Legislature into banning semi-automatic firearms.  His tactics were classic bait and switch.  Trying to outlaw semi-automatics, he passed out photographs of automatics — weapons that had nothing to do with his bill.

As a law enforcement official, Sullivan of course carried a firearm to protect himself, yet he believed that the same right should not be extended to ordinary citizens. Likewise, he now faces allegations that he carried illegal drugs for his personal satisfaction, but believed that even terminally ill patients should not be permitted to use marijuana for pain relief.

Neither the criminal charges he faces currently nor his possibly hypocritical political beliefs can tarnish the heroic acts performed by former Sheriff Sullivan during his time as a police officer and Sheriff. Notably, he drove his Jeep through a fence to rescue a wounded deputy from a murderer wielding a stolen semi-automatic weapon. (Trigger warning: Link is to a news article on a forum discussing the Columbine shootings.)

Sullivan later (literally) held up the aforementioned shooter’s weapon as an example in advocating for a ban on private ownership of semi-automatic firearms.

Former Sheriff Sullivan is, as is any arrested party, innocent until proven guilty. However, it may not be too much to hope that his arrest sparks a statewide conversation about drug policy.

If Sullivan indeed illegally sold methamphetamine, despite having had any number of opportunities during his law enforcement career to observe the drug’s effects on individuals, families, and communities, one must question the value of deterrence in preventing drug use. Nobody could know better than a former Sheriff the consequences, both legal and personal, of involvement in the methamphetamine trade.

Could it be time to stop treating punishment and fear as the solution to the sickness that is addiction, and begin focusing on healing communities? In Portugal, decriminalization had a  provably positive effect, reducing overdose deaths and causing a sharp drop in HIV transmission by way of needle-sharing. Aversive measures and deterrents have yet to cure any disease, from cancer to obesity to alcoholism to drug addiction. Treatment and prevention may not work perfectly, but they work, and they don’t remove productive citizens or retired law enforcement heroes from their families or communities.  

ProgressiveCowgirl

About ProgressiveCowgirl

Colorado native, young professional, progressive cowgirl. 4-term FPE (aka masochist).

28 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. nancycronknancycronk says:

    I’m shocked. And sad. And confused. 9 News has great coverage of the story, with a video showing current Sheriff Grayon Robinson saying basically the same thing — everyone is shocked.

    Your coverage, PCG, asks important drug policy questions. Let’s hope they get asked by a larger audience.  

    • Very sad to see that after he retired honorably, Sullivan will likely be remembered first for this scandal, with his honorable service coming second if at all in people’s minds. Although I don’t agree with him politically and consider his opportunism as a gun control advocate to be poor form, I hate to see his years of distinguished service overshadowed this way. If any good can come  of it, I hope it’s in the form of a more reasonable and empathetic conversation on drug policy. I kind of hate to even write about it, but getting out in front of it before the “just another family values Republican who loves his drugs and gay sex, HA HA!” coverage was more appealing to me than the alternative.

      If he did what he was accused of doing, he did a despicable thing. Meth is pretty much the worst thing you can put in your body. If for his own sexual gratification  he encouraged a friend’s addiction rather than pushing his friend to seek treatment, that’s unforgivable, but I still feel very uncomfortable with the fact that simply because we’ve declared a particular disease illegal, a retired man who has saved many lives is facing six years in prison.

      • nancycronknancycronk says:

        When Ted Haggard was caught doing the same thing (essentially), it came to light that meth is a huge problem in the gay community. Exposing the problem might mean getting more resources to fight the problem, in theory. Sadly, with the state government being what it is, prevention programs are not funded.

        I thought Sullivan’s stance on gun control was commendable, especially given the fact he was a Republican. He wasn’t talking about the hunting rifles you and I grew up with (I’m guessing you did, too) — he was talking about semi-automatic machine guns –guns that have no business in anyone’s hands outside the military. I applaud him for using his notariety at the time to express that opinion.

        I also hope this story shows the human face of drug arrests. People who know and respected Sullivan may see his fall from grace as sad, just as many of us see the tens of thousands of teenage drug abuser’s destroyed lives as sad, too. You hit it on the nose; addiction is not about character. It is about dysfunction, poor decisions, and illness. It needs to be treated, not punished.

  2. BlueCat says:

    I remember how proud we were of our valiant Sheriff the day our schools were on lock down until he burst through that fence in his jeep under fire to the rescue of his deputies and that teenager. I remember voting for a Republican, Sullivan, for the first time in my life in the next election because there couldn’t possibly be a finer sheriff and it’s not as if they legislate anything.  

    I remember how annoyed many true Littletonians got over the 1999 Columbine tragedy being constantly attributed to “Littleton” when “Littleton” is simply the way that unincorporated area is addressed though it is outside of our city limits, our county, our Sheriff’s jurisdiction and our school district.

    We got tired of having to explain to relatives calling from all over that, no, it wasn’t our kid’s school and that our officials had nothing to do with it.

    Everyone I knew was quite sure that if it really had happened in our Arapahoe County Littleton with our Sheriff Sullivan in charge, nobody would have been left to bleed to death while fully armored SWAT teams were made to stand around uselessly for hours on end like so many expensive toy soldiers.

    For a change, when everyone who is interviewed says how completely shocked they are and how they never would have suspected anything like this in their wildest dreams (like when the nice serial killer next door is busted), I know exactly how they feel. I feel like begging him to say it ain’t so. On a “House” episode this is where we’d find out he had a brain tumor or something to account for it.    

    • nancycronknancycronk says:

      I tell them all the time, “Everyone has issues. Don’t worship humans — none are perfect (least of all, sports and political heroes). Idolize ideals, not people.”  

      • BlueCat says:

        It’s OK to admire people for things they actually do.  Everyone interviewed in the article was blown away and with good cause.  We’re allowed to be stunned.

        And, sorry, but the “everybody has issues” thing seems kind of trite.  Not all “issues” are equal and to put it like that reminds me of when people say things like anybody could be sucked into a cult or any senior could be sucked into a scam. Not entirely true at all.

        I’d much rather be stunned by this news than be so cynical as to just naturally expect the worst from everyone I admire and respect. And there are those who have never and will never let me down in that way, not that they are saints or anything.

        • nancycronknancycronk says:

          Sorry if it sounded that way. I am stunned, too.

          If you know me (and I have no idea if you do, since I do not know who you are), you will know I am not cynical. Usually, I am accused of being too gullible or Pollyana. I’m usually the one who gives people the benefit of the doubt, unless I know otherwise.

          I just think every human being is complicated. Mother Teresa might have stolen candy as a child for all I know. Ghandi might has lied to a friend once. Who knows? It’s not cynical, it’s just the law of probability. No one’s perfect. I think that is a no brainer.

          If Sullivan is a closet homosexual or bi-sexual, I don’t hold that against him. He’s old — when he was a young man, the current psychology of the day said that was a bad thing. If he were in high school today, he might embrace that part of him — it’s a whole different world today.  I hope he, and everyone else from his generation, is more understanding of such things, than when they were young.

          Heck, my Dad, who died last year at 77, was a homophobe until his last ten years. After we shared lots of PFLAG books with him and my sister “came out” to him, he did a 180 turn, and he became a very protective, straight ally. I have hope for everyone. (What I find less forgiveable is when people understand that current scientific research overwhelmingly supports that people do not choose to be gay anymore than most of us choose to be straight, and they still choose to persecute them, for their own political or political gain). Sullivan has been out of office for years. If he’s gay, good for him. It’s no one’s business except his.

          As for the drugs, I hope he gets he and his associate both get help, too. Should he be held accountable for breaking the law if these allegations are true? Absolutely!

          Do any of these things invalidate the work he did as Sheriff in Arapahoe County? No. Each act, whether it is of heroism, or of lawlessness, should stand on its own.

          I’m no religious scholar, but I am fond of the notion, “Let he/she who is without sin cast the first stone”. We’ve all got our history. Most of us just not this big.

          • BlueCat says:

            what your having no idea who I am has to do with my comments or what your views on homosexuality, homophobia or stone casting have to do with anything I said either. Appreciate that you also are stunned, though. Seems a kind of natural reaction, all things considered.  

            And of course, just because we know who Sullivan is doesn’t mean we know him any more than I know any other public person I hear and read about or know you just because you choose not to be anonymous. Even so, I’d still be quite surprised if I woke up to a news item saying you had been busted for running a juvenile prostitution ring and not because I feel particularly worshipful toward you. No offense. I do feel generally positive toward the you I know through reading what you have to say, anonymity or lack thereof not an issue in that regard.  

    • Craig says:

      For very good comments.  I felt the same way, and I lived in Jeffco, though I’ve known Pat for 30 years and have the utmost respect for him.  He was an old-time public servant in the truest and most positive sense that that can be said.

  3. dwyer says:

    It will be difficult not to presume guilt. This is where honoring the assumption of innocence is so important and so hard for me because it would appear that the case is open and shut.

    I think that this is very serious. I believe it goes beyond drug addiction. I believe it has to do with exploitation.

    • It goes hand in hand with exploitation. I’m for decriminalization, but one would have to be blind not to understand that drugs are horrible not just for their physical effects on the body, but also because of the risks addiction causes people to accept as normal, like prostitution. I unfortunately grew up with several people who ended up with meth habits, and although I’m not directly in touch with any of them, just from what I’ve heard through the grapevine, not one of them has escaped some sort of exploitation using their addiction.

  4. Half Glass FullHalf Glass Full says:

    Rosen played up Sullivan’s stances on assault weapons and TABOR. Apparently Rosen wants us to believe that if you support increased tax revenue and any restrictions on assault weapons, you’re more likely to dabble in meth for sex.

  5. thiokuutoo says:

    Why was he selling meth? Or trading meth for sex? Is he broke? Is he an addict?

    And, yes I did snicker a little bit when I heard it on the KBCO news this morning. But only because of the irony and knowing the man before he retired.

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