Officers and staff members at the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office have been doing some soul searching after deputies made inappropriate comments about a Durango Herald reporter’s body and nationality that were inadvertently recorded in a voicemail message left for her.
La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith declined to be interviewed about how his agency is responding to the incident, citing personnel policies and concern for the reporter, Chase Olivarius-McAllister, because, he said, he has heard attacks are being made against her on social media.
Instead, he issued a written statement and a copy of an email he sent to his staff members Monday titled, “How do we conduct ourselves?”
“I am at liberty to share with you that the three individuals involved in this conversation are very remorseful and fully understand the impact of this situation on their personal and professional reputations as well as the agency as a whole,” Smith wrote in the email. “I don’t want you to think that this situation is limited to the three individuals who were involved in this situation, because this is a reflection on all of us. Many of you have come forward and told me about inappropriate conversation(s) you have engaged in, and I know that I myself have had inappropriate conversations in the past.”
The 2-minute voicemail was left July 18 by Deputy Zach Farnam on Olivarius-McAllister’s phone at the Herald offices. Farnam was calling the reporter to provide more details about a car-bicycle accident.
In the message, Farnam told Olivarius-McAllister she could return his call, and then it sounds as if he hung up the phone. He did not realize the call was not disconnected. In the background, Farnam can be heard briefly talking to a dog, then he begins talking to another deputy about Olivarius-McAllister.
Farnam and two other deputies, using expletives, made derogatory statements about her physical appearance and also about people from the United Kingdom, where Olivarius-McAllister grew up.
Smith said he and his command staff have spent the months since he took office in January working on the culture in the Sheriff’s Office.
He said the work at his office is just beginning.
“This has been a huge learning experience for us, and I will continue to address this within my agency,” he said in his statement to the Herald.
“I will be providing additional training to staff to reinforce professionalism and discourage incidents such as this in the future.”