Investigating crime in rural areas

Deputy Gary Nichols has worked in Moffat County, Colorado for 28 years. In January 2012 he won the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association Officer of the Year for 2011.

He received the recognition in part for his role, with strong support from State Brand Inspector Brad Ocker, in a months-long investigation of a local rancher that ended with a variety of cattle theft- related criminal charges and a financial cost to cattle owners of somewhere between $67,000 and $100,000 — numbers that equal some serious bank robberies.

The investigation spanned an area of 15,000 acres — 23 square miles, an area about the size of Boulder or Ann Arbor — of open range with nine different victims and covered incidents that occurred over a four-year period. In the course of the investigation he discovered twenty-nine re-branded cattle, which is similar to changing a vehicle’s VIN in an auto theft case.

On July 13, 2012, a jury found the defendant, Monty Pilgrim, guilty of five felony counts related to the thefts.

Deputy Nichols was also instrumental in preventing a statewide outbreak of a deadly parasitic disease, Equine Piroplasmosis. His investigation led to the discovery of five racehorses illegally transported into the U.S. from Mexico.

Had the disease spread local ranchers could have faced a staggering financial loss of livestock. Facing large fines and other costs the owner decided to euthanize the animals, effectively eliminating the disease from the area.

Outside of the investigation one of Deputy Nichols’ biggest challenges has been convincing local prosecutors and judges, who may have no knowledge of the livestock industry, of the seriousness of these types of offenses.

About the author

Retiring after nearly 22 years of active duty in the Army, Lance Eldridge worked as the director of a law enforcement training academy and served as a rural patrol deputy and patrol officer in Colorado. While in the military, he held leadership positions in a variety of organizations and has written extensively about US military strategy, operations, and history. He is a graduate of the US Army's Command and General Staff College and the Norwegian Staff College. He holds a Masters Degree in History and a Masters Degree in Strategic Intelligence. He has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in national security strategy, European regional security, US history, and terrorism. He now works in northern Virginia.

Contact Lance Eldridge.

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