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Gunnison county sheriff’s office settles lawsuit with former deputy

Jackson agrees to $415,000

By Mark Reaman

A former Gunnison County deputy sheriff who ran a political campaign against his boss in 2014 and was fired shortly thereafter has reached a $415,000 settlement agreement with the Gunnison County sheriff’s office. The first of two $207,500 payments was made to Scott Jackson last month when the settlement was signed, and a second payment is scheduled for January 2019.

In March 2015, former Gunnison County sheriff’s deputy Scott Jackson was excused from his position—an action he claims was instigated by his decision to run a political campaign in opposition to then-incumbent sheriff Rick Besecker in the previous year’s election. Jackson was a 35-year veteran of the Gunnison Sheriff’s Office.

Besecker won the November election by a margin of 112 votes and was re-elected to his second term as sheriff. He then fired Jackson the following spring, stating in a letter to Jackson, “Your continued employment as a Deputy Sheriff undermines the effective discharge of my duties as Gunnison County Sheriff, negatively impacts morale of the employees of the Sheriff’s Office, and overall impedes the efficient performance of this Office’s obligations.”

Jackson contended that his constitutional right to freedom of speech was violated when Besecker fired him. He also claimed that his termination was contrived by Besecker, who he accuses of conspiring with members of the county attorney’s office to formulate a policy specifically tailored to facilitate his firing, while also protecting Besecker from disclosing his reason for doing so.

Under the nine-page settlement statement obtained through an open records request with the county, it is clear the Sheriff’s Office is obligated to pay Jackson $415,000 in two installments as a result of the employment action. The first payment was to have been delivered when the agreement was signed by both parties, which occurred on April 17. The second “shall be enforceable by Mr. Jackson against the Sheriff’s Office, Gunnison County, by and through its Board of County Commissioners, and CTSI (County Technical Services, Inc., a non-profit Colorado insurance group).

According to county manager Matthew Birnie, half of the total $415,00 payment to Jackson is coming from county funds with the other half coming from CTSI.

The agreement also states, “The payment and consideration made under this agreement are not to be construed as an admission of liability on the part of the persons and entities hereby released and … any and all liability is by said persons and entities hereby expressly denied.”

Based on the agreement, it is clear those involved did not want to divulge the settlement amount.

“Except to the extent otherwise required by law, the parties and their attorneys agree to keep confidential the amount of consideration paid under the terms of the agreement, including the details,” the agreement states. “Plaintiff and his attorneys agree that any permissible dissemination of the amount of the settlement shall be made in a manner so as not to result in public dissemination of such information … It is further agreed that, except to the extent required by law, henceforth no documents, statements, acknowledgements, or interviews will be given to any news organization or entity of any type by the Parties or their attorneys related to the settlement.”

The settlement, signed only by Jackson and Besecker last April, states that both sides agree that no portion of the settlement amount being paid is for exemplary or punitive damages.

Jackson said his only comment on the settlement was, “The matter has been resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties.” Besecker was sent an email by the Crested Butte News but did not comment on the settlement.

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