Print Friendly, PDF & Email

An 11th Judicial District jury found Chaffee County Emergency Manager Phil Graham guilty last week of impersonating a peace officer, false reporting and official misconduct in a court case that began in March 2018.  Graham resigned his position as director of Chaffee County Emergency Management June 28.

In a letter to the Board of County Commissioners, he said “I want to … express how thankful I am for the opportunity … to work in and represent Chaffee County for the last three and a half years….while I completely maintain my innocence, I feel it best that I resign from my position as Director of Emergency Mgmt. in order to work through the appeal process …and spare the county any more pressure or pain.”

Phil Graham leads a discussion on community preparedness during the county’s Envision process.

The jury’s decision on case 18CR115 involving an alleged incident on Monarch Pass found Graham guilty of charges of impersonating a peace officer, first-degree official misconduct and false reporting to authorities. Graham testified that he inadvertently hit the switch for the emergency red-blue light sequence of his county-issued vehicle while on his way to a training meeting.

County Attorney Jenny Davis confirmed that Chaffee County Commissioners have now decided to reverse their decision made following a May 2018 executive session in which they voted to pay legal costs for Graham to fight the charges.

At that time, the county did a preliminary investigation. They found that the incident happened while Graham was performing county duties and his actions appear to be within the scope of his employment. In fact, Chaffee County Resolution 2016-35 specifically authorizes the emergency manager to operate an assigned county vehicle as an emergency response vehicle.

“Last year the County entered into an agreement with Phil to cover his attorney fees unless it was determined that Graham was not acting within the course and scope of his employment or was engaged in willful and wanton conduct*,” wrote Davis. “Immediately after becoming aware of the verdict last week, the county terminated the agreement. Phil will be responsible for paying his legal fees and costs for the trial, and I have communicated that to his attorney.”

Davis confirmed that Graham resigned from his position as Director of the Chaffee County Office of Emergency Management prior to the Board of County Commissioners taking action to terminate him.  She confirmed also that the county had taken no position on any of the cases and that Graham had his own legal counsel. “The county had an arrangement to pay for that originally, but we weren’t involved [in the cases]. Now there is a factual finding.”

She said the county is assembling a team to direct the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) until a replacement can be found.

“We are working on some sort of an agreement with [Graham] to make sure we cover pending grants, outstanding invoices, payments due to the county on various grants so we have this covered until we have a new emergency manager,” said Davis. “It’s a team approach right now. The state OEM office will be assisting the county as well. Obviously, we’d like this filled ASAP. ”

The original charges filed by then District Attorney Molly Chilsen included impersonating a peace officer, use or possession of red or blue lights, first-degree official misconduct, false reporting to authorities and an alleged case involving what was referred to as “a road rage incident” and failure to give way when overtaken.

Graham is represented by attorney Randy Canney, who said no decision regarding any appeal has been made. He added that he had no comment on this case or the two pending cases.

They include 18CR196, involving an incident on Trout Creek Pass (which was referenced during the jury trial as evidence of a “pattern of behavior”). A third case (18CR283) is not county-related; based on an allegation that Graham tried to buy a firearm at Walmart, while the other two cases were pending.

All three cases are set for a status review at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 10 in District Court.

A source who wishes to remain anonymous, belives that the charge of impersonating an officer, may relate more to a pattern of conflict between the Chaffee County Sheriff’s office, the DA’s office and the OEM after Graham assumed his position in December 2015. At the time, officials said he brought professional emergency management experience to a position many said was lacking the necessary professional standards.

Earlier, Graham had reported an infraction, made by the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Department, to the OEM within the Department of Homeland Security regional office. He reported that a Homeland Security emergency response vehicle, which by law must be available at all times for emergencies and parked at OEM headquarters, was being driven around the county by Sheriff John Spezze and left overnight in undisclosed locations.

Graham began his career in fire services. He has more than 20 years experience as a firefighter and paramedic, becoming a certified emergency manager and captain of the Westminster Paramedics in 2008. He holds a Masters Summa Cum Laude in Homeland Security and Emergency Management from Kaplan University.

* According to, “Willful and wanton conduct implies knowledge and consciousness that injury will result from the act done. Willful and wanton negligence is action undertaken in conscious disregard of another’s rights or with reckless indifference to consequences with the defendant aware, from his knowledge of existing circumstances and conditions, that his conduct probably would cause injury to another.”