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Crime and Courts

Prosecutors drop official misconduct charge against Eagle County’s sheriff, saying they can’t prove the case

James van Beek was indicted after an investigation by his district attorney, Bruce Brown. Van Beek’s lawyer said the misunderstanding could have been resolved over a cup of coffee.

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An official misconduct charge brought against Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek has been dismissed in what his attorney says is a misunderstanding with the district attorney that could have been resolved over a cup of coffee. 

Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek. (Photo by The Vail Daily)

Instead, the case went to a grand jury, which over the summer charged van Beek with misusing funds. But a special prosecutor assigned to handle the case said they lack enough evidence to prove that he committed a crime. 

Van Beek said in a statement that the charge was “ill-conceived” and “an unwarranted attack on me personally.”

Van Beek was indicted by the grand jury in July on the low-level charge. Specifically, he was accused of improperly spending money from an account containing funds seized during investigations, known as forfeiture proceeds. The contention was that he needed approval from a board before he spent the money. 

But the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, which was appointed as special prosecutor in the case, told a judge on Thursday night that they couldn’t prove that Van Beek had actually committed the crime of official misconduct because it couldn’t prove he spent forfeiture dollars incorrectly. 

District Attorney Jefferson J. Cheney said in a motion to dismiss the case that he felt his prosecutors could not prove the charge or that the sheriff “acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner.”

The case was initially brought by 5th Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown, with whom van Beek’s office works regularly to prosecute crimes. It was a rare clash between the two top lawmen in a Colorado county. 

“I was confident that the result of a fair assessment of this allegation would result in its dismissal,” van Beek said in his statement. “I will continue to believe, and promote the candid conversations between public officials as the best way of resolving disagreements and better serving our citizens.”

Bryan Treu, Eagle County’s attorney, who represents van Beek, had harsher words for Brown. 

“Any disagreements about the expenditures identified in the indictment could have easily been resolved over a cup of coffee,” he said in a statement. “Convening a grand jury for a petty offense was unnecessary and we are thankful the 9th Judicial District ended it quickly with a voluntary dismissal of the charge.”

Brown declined to comment on the outcome of the case since he did not lead the prosecution, instead referring questions to the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office .

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