FORT COLLINS, Colo. – An outspoken Colorado sheriff took to Facebook to call out for community action against what he calls an influx of “criminal transients” after the murder of a 23-year-old mother.
Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith began the post published Friday with the words “Absolutely inexcusable!” A reference to the June 21 murder of Heather Hoffman, whose body was found floating in a lake at Fort Collins City Park. Self-identified transient, Jeffrey Etheridge, 27, was arrested in connection to her murder and sexual assault.
“There is no other way to describe the rape and murder of 23-year-old Heather "Helena" Hoffman and the circumstances that lead (sic) up to it,” he wrote. “She didn't deserve that fate.”
Smith says the “newly-arrived” suspect is a multi-state sex offender who recently registered as a transient in the city of Fort Collins. He pointed to current laws that allow people like Etheridge to register without a legal residence.
Smith says there has been a nearly 90 percent spike in felony crimes in the county over the past three years. He blames the transient community for the majority of that increase, most of whom, Smith claims, are also responsible for the more than 50 percent hike in the county’s jail population during that same time period -- a drastic and troubling reversal from just three years ago.
Nearly one in three inmates in the Larimer County Jail are self-identified as either homeless, transient or living in a local shelter, according to Smith. That's up significantly from previous years.
Smith's Facebook post continues:
“As your elected sheriff, I personally see the tragedies brought forth by many of these dangerous, drifters, travelers or transients across the county. Every Monday, I receive an automated, detailed report of the transient inmates booked into our county jail and the crimes they are accused and convicted of. I see the records of their previous criminal convictions and it's shocking!”
The Larimer County Sheriff says “the time for talk is over,” and is appealing to the community to organize groups to oppose public policy he says is causing the influx of transients in the county despite a record-low unemployment rate. He didn’t specify what those policies are though.
“I encourage you to organize with your neighbors, friends, civic groups and business associates and attend the next city council meeting and the next one and the one after that and demand the council take action to protect the community and stop surrendering to the transient advocates who show up, like clockwork, every time the local police attempt to crack down on the dangerous transients flooding our communities,” Smith wrote.
In an interview with Denver7 Monday, Smith mentioned Homeless Gear, a non-profit that provides camping gear to homeless people. He suggested that organizations like these, while they may mean well, are only exacerbating the problem.
“The transient inmates tell me we get our gear from them, and we don’t care to lug it around so we just leave it there," Smith told Denver7. "If it's only encouraging more people to live by the river, trash the water or the river banks. It's not working, change it!”
David Rout, the executive director of Homeless Gear, said the organization has implemented policies to minimize people taking advantage of their services. Supplies are only a small part of the work they do to help homeless people get back on their feet.
Smith has been vocal about the issue in the past as the Larimer County Jail reaches its limits. The Republican was voted into office in 2010 and was reelected in 2014 in an unopposed race.