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.