SAN LUIS VALLEY — For the first time since it went into effect in January of 2020, the Red Flag Law was used in the 12th Judicial District, the result of a case which demanded intervention from the Alamosa Sheriff’s Office.
Even before circumstances deemed it necessary for ASO to become involved, Sheriff Robert Jackson was not exactly a fan of Red Flag. As is true with more than half of Colorado’s 64 counties, Alamosa County commissioners passed a resolution declaring Alamosa a “second amendment sanctuary”, prohibiting the sheriff’s office from using resources to enforce Red Flag provisions. And Jackson agrees. He doesn’t have the manpower to devote to what could be an involved process based on a law that, he feels, is too vague in its wording.
The Red Flag Law, passed by the Colorado legislature in 2019, allows law enforcement or someone close to a gun owner, such as a family member or roommate, to petition the court to temporarily seize the firearms if the person poses a significant risk to the safety of themselves or others. If granted, the judge issues an “extreme-risk protection order” allowing the guns to be confiscated for no more than fourteen days during which a hearing must be held allowing the gun owner and his attorney to present a case for why the guns should be returned. At that point, the judge may either rule to return the guns or extend the order up to 364 days. While that order is in effect, the gun owner is prevented from purchasing another gun but may petition the court as many times as he wishes to have the guns returned.
“I’m a moderate, JFK Democrat,” Jackson says. “I’m also a second amendment Democrat. And cops are used to due process. We know the difference between reasonable suspicion and probable cause, and we do things by the book. I wasn’t concerned about the law enforcement side of the bill.
But the civilian side – where somebody just has to convince a judge to take someone’s gun – that bothers me.”
However, Jackson’s discomfort was not as much of an issue in this case as, instead of petitioning the court themselves, several family members contacted the sheriff’s office.
“The way this thing came about is the undersheriff – who’s a pretty conservative 2nd amendment guy – came to me and said he thought we have a red flag case that we’re going to have to address,” Jackson says.
“It was right after the shooting in Boulder, and two members of this guy’s family told our deputies they were worried he might be the next mass shooter.”
The sheriff’s office immediately started looking into the individual’s background, including a review of dispatch calls from the State Patrol, calls their office had received in the past and contacts the sheriff’s office had had with the individual, themselves. They also interviewed city police officers familiar with the man and did additional interviews with members of the family.
“Based on the totality of what we found, we had to agree,” Jackson says. “This kid’s scary.”
The sheriff’s office then contacted the Alamosa County attorney, also a strong advocate for the second amendment with a concern about due process.
Douglas County, which has a much larger population, has had more experience with the Red Flag Law, so a copy of their procedures was used for reference when going through the process to petition the court.
“Like I said, this is a first in the 12th Judicial District,” Jackson says. “We were being real careful.”
About the time that the sheriff’s office had compiled all the information and taken it to the DA’s office, they learned the individual had gone into Walmart where he was reportedly “arguing and threatening people or something.” Alamosa Police Department officers made contact and arrested him. When his car was searched, officers found two guns – a shotgun and a pistol – both of which were confiscated.
“He was already in our jail by the time we got everything signed by the judge,” Jackson says, “so we served him there. He was fine with us searching his house.”
Of the four guns the man admitted to owning, the city has possession of two and a family member has the third. Law enforcement officials are tracking down the fourth, an AR-15 that the man said he sold to someone in another town. Jackson says law enforcement from that jurisdiction are assisting ASO in finding the weapon.
The individual is currently out on bond and was scheduled, along with his attorney, for a hearing in court last week. But the individual ran out of gas, something confirmed by both his attorney and personal friends. Given the fourteen-day window during which a hearing must be scheduled, the attorney requested a continuance, which, after careful review of the law, was granted by the judge.
A hearing is scheduled for later this week.
If the judge extends the order, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation will put the extreme-risk protection order in the database. Should the individual still attempt to buy a firearm either from a gun shop or private individual, his name will be red-flagged and the sale prevented until the order is removed.
“We had police contacts, all kinds of calls and documented concern from people who are close to him. You can’t ever tell what he might have done. You just don’t know. But he’s out on bond. And there’s a possibility they’ll extend the order until he gets some help with mental health issues or maybe some drug addiction help. He just has to be able to prove to the court that he’s now competent to possess a gun.”
As far as Sheriff Jackson’s opinion of the Red Flag Law, he’s still not a fan.
“In 37 years, I’ve been involved in a lot of search warrants, but I’ve only seen two no-knock search warrants, which this law allows. No-knock warrants are dangerous. It sure bothers me and it really bothers the other guys. So, we’ll do this on a case-by-case basis, and both the county attorney and I have to sign off on them.
“And, yes, it’s a political bombshell. It’s all-new, so we’re going slow and we’ll be completely open about it. But I think [this case] is one where the law had some good points, and I don’t think any of the conservative guys would have any argument with it.”
At that point, Sheriff Jackson gives a short laugh. “But that doesn’t mean we won’t get crap from both the liberals and the conservatives. That’s usually how these things go.”