Friday, August 7, 2020

County deputy resigns amidst Facebook comment investigation

Sheriff confident in integrity of department

By Mark Reaman

The Gunnison County sheriff’s deputy who was possibly tied to posting inappropriate messages on his personal Facebook page resigned last week and the department’s investigation into the matter is no longer active.

Sheriff John Gallowich said corporal Stephen Liest submitted a one-sentence letter of resignation on Thursday, July 23, and did not address the Facebook issue. “There was no mention of Facebook and no admission that he authored the posts,” Gallowich explained.

Liest had been placed on paid administrative leave after posts located on his “Scooba Steve” Facebook page included comments directed toward protestors. Reacting to a photo showing demonstrators blocking traffic, the post on the page said the people should be used as “speed bumps.” In further conversation on the page, “Scooba Steve” told a participant he would like to see him “in front of me especially when I am at work and Ill [(sic] show the world how that works for you…”

Gallowich had opened an investigation into the posts after many citizens upset by the situation brought it to his attention. An outside expert had been retained to look over the computer used by Liest to determine if the messages were made by him or if his Facebook account had been hacked.

“I was bothered by the posts and wanted to get to the bottom of it,” Gallowich said. “Given that the investigation concerned policies and procedures and not breaking the law, once the resignation was submitted there was no reason to continue the investigation. If the investigation had found he made the posts, the range of ramification would have been most extreme with his termination, which basically took place last week with his resignation. Once he resigned, there was no other punishment he could have received.”

Gallowich again stated that the attitude expressed by the Facebook posts did not reflect the attitude of the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Department.

Gallowich said there have been department-wide conversations about the incident. “As law enforcement officers we live in glass houses and what is said anywhere is important,” he said. “The inappropriate comments do not indicate the attitude of this department. We aren’t going to go through the personal Facebook of every person in the department but there is no reason to believe there are similar such attitudes in this department.

“I always try to be cautious and no one working here can be biased,” Gallowich continued. “When dealing with our people, our citizens, we can’t have preconceived ideas. We have to start in the middle and see where the facts take us. Our job is to serve and protect everyone. I am confident the department is in the right place overall and we are not biased.”

Which is not to say Gallowich wouldn’t pursue another investigation if the facts warranted one. “Like most people I was bothered by those comments,” he said. “At the first indication of other similar situations that are inappropriate we have to react and investigate and we will.”

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