Denver Mayor Michael Hancock appointed longtime staffer Elias Diggins on Monday as the city's new sheriff, effective July 27.
Diggins, who has worked with the Denver Sheriff Department for more than 25 years, will replace interim director Fran Gomez, who in May withdrew her name for the post that was vacated last fall by Patrick Firman.
"The new sheriff needs to be someone with deep community experience, knowledge of the department and — let me say this with great emphasis — someone who appreciates the value and power of second chances," Hancock said in a press conference.
"I wanted someone who genuinely understood the job day in and day out. I wanted someone who knows what the risks and challenges of the job really mean in Denver, because in addition to the safety and welfare of those booked in our jails, we also want to safeguard the safety and welfare of our deputies," he said. "Elias Diggins has proven to be that kind of leader."
Following the October resignation of Firman after four turbulent years at the helm of the city’s jails, the Department of Public Safety late last year sought community and staff feedback to help guide the interview and selection process.
The agency also created a sheriff selection committee, announced in February, to play “a key role” in the hiring process. The committee was chaired by Murphy Robinson, the newly appointed executive director of public safety, and made up of community leaders to “ensure the residents of Denver are represented” in the process.
Diggins, a Denver native, had served as the chief of operations since January 2018, according to his LinkedIn profile. He was also division chief for nearly eight years, although he briefly stepped into the interim sheriff role from July 2014 to October 2015. Diggins has also been a captain, sergeant and deputy sheriff for the department.
Diggins was once charged for an attempt to influence a public official, which is a felony. Diggins told 7News, which broke the story in 2014, that he had lied to a judge about having insurance after a car crash in 1996, when he was 23.
He later pleaded guilty to making a false report, which is a misdemeanor.
"The past is the past, and I've had some challenges, but I am ready to move forward and to lead this department to where we need to go," Diggins pledged Monday.
"Growing up in Montbello, I know how important our community is, how important it is for us in law enforcement to be a part of the community," he said. "And it is my hope that as we move forward, that we can bring the community to the table and re-earn the trust that has been broken."
Diggins’ appointment was supported by the National Sheriffs Association, National Latino Peace Officers Association and Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, among others.
Diggins, who will earn a salary of $194,476, will take the helm of a department riddled with controversies against the backdrop of widespread demands to defund local law enforcement and end racism.
Meanwhile, the Denver City Council has referred a measure to the November 2020 ballot that will ask voters for the permission to approve 14 key mayoral appointees, including the sheriff. (The measure is not retroactive and would not apply to Diggins.)
Pushing that proposal forward, alongside Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer, was Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca. She said Monday that, although she is hoping voters help "institutionalize a transparent process" this fall, she "look(s) forward" in the meantime "to working with Sheriff Diggins, whose downtown jail is in my district, to address the many concerns raised by inmates and staff."
Councilman Paul Kashmann, who chairs the Council's safety committee, told Colorado Politics in an email that Diggins has "all the qualities needed to be a great Sheriff. It is a difficult job, and I think his knowledge of Denver, of the Sheriff’s Dept. and his lived experience will serve him well.
"That said," Kashmann continued, "I would very much hope he is able to find the resources to hire a new position that would be focused solely on the delivery of mental health services in the Denver jail system."
The Denver sheriff is primarily responsible for the city's correctional and detention facilities, courts and hospital.