Commerce City joins Aurora, four other cities in lawsuit over county prisoner cap

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Lawsuit alleges Sheriff Darr doesn’t have authority to refuse inmates or impose cap

By The Staff

BRIGHTON — Five Adams County cities affected by the inmate caps instituted at the Adams County Jail have sued Sheriff Doug Darr and the county, claiming the county doesn’t have the authority to impose the limit.


The cities of Aurora, Commerce City, Federal Heights, Northglenn and Thornton joined together as plaintiffs in the suit, which was filed Feb. 19 in Adams County District Court. Sheriff Darr and Adams County Commissioners Eva Henry, Chaz Tedesco and Erik Hansen are named as defendants in their official capacities as county officials.

The Adams County Board of Commissioners approved a cap — set by Darr — on the number of inmates coming from local municipalities in October 2011 and it went into effect Jan. 1, 2012. Of the 30 spots dictated by the cap, Thornton was set at eight inmates; Commerce City and Aurora were accorded four each; Nothglenn was apportioned three; and Federal Heights was set at one.

     The other municipalities affected but not taking part in the lawsuit were Westminster (five inmates), Brighton (three) and Arvada and Bennett (one each). The county, as part of the cap, imposed a $45 per day fee for housing municipal inmates beyond the stated cap.

In October 2012, the county commissioners adopted a resolution authorizing Sheriff Darr to hire more deputy sheriffs in order to address staffing issues at the jail that initially prompted the municipal cap.

Although the board of commissioners rescinded the policy during its April 15, 2013, meeting and authorized the cap to be increased to 60, Sheriff Doug Darr continued to enforce the previous cap, which only allows for the intake of 30 inmates from the nine municipalities within the county. The cap does not include prisoners sentenced for domestic violence.

On Monday, Feb. 24, the commissioners passed a resolution reaffirming the 30-prisoner cap after issuing a statement Sunday on the lawsuit.

“The board is encouraging an ongoing dialogue between the sheriff’s office and the impacted municipalities to resolve this issue outside of a courtroom,” the statement read. 

Aurora is the only Adams County municipality that has had inmates turned away from the county jail, according to the joint statement from the plaintiffs. Aurora city officials have since forged agreements with Denver to house the inmates who previously would have been held at the Adams County Jail.

“Defendant Darr is acting without legal authority by accepting only an arbitrary number of municipal prisoners and his actions are both arbitrary and capricious ... and leaves municipalities with no remedy at law since the County Jail is the only facility available to municipalities in Adams County absent special arrangements with consenting alternative jail facilities with a mandated cost imposed upon the municipality,” the lawsuit stated in its complaint against Darr and the county.

Darr has publicly expressed disappointment regarding the municipal reactions, including the June 2013 joint appearance of five municipal chiefs of police, and maintains the problem is really a safety issue in regards to the number of staff and the volume of inmates at the jail.

In June 2013, Darr said the Adams County Jail had the highest inmate-to-staff ratio of any agency in the state, a ratio twice the national recommended average. He also claimed that simply authorizing the hiring of new officers would not immediately fix staffing levels at the jail, given the time needed to recruit and train them prior to putting them in service at the facility.

The lawsuit seeks to affirm the plaintiffs’ contention that Sheriff Darr does not have the authority to refuse municipal prisoners, nor the authority to impose “an arbitrary imposition of restrictions on confinement.” The City of Aurora also is seeking monetary damages related to the inmates refused by the county, in addition to each plaintiff seeking awards for their legal fees regarding the case.