After Able Shepherd, a Centennial-based tactical security training organization, planned a protest at Castle Rock PrideFest, the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office prohibited the group from participating as a vendor at a multi-faith safety summit.
In an interview with Colorado Community Media, Arapahoe County Sheriff Tyler Brown said his office has cut ties with Able Shepherd and does not think future partnerships or collaborations will happen between his department and the group, “unless there (are) some drastic changes in their philosophy.”
“I’m not going to tolerate disrespect for other people’s rights,” he said.
During Castle Rock PrideFest on Aug. 26, protesters delayed the start of a “G-rated” drag show at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. Approximately 75 men — wearing matching shirts reading “Stand To Protect Children” — blocked the stage, postponing the beginning of the show by 30 minutes.
Able Shepherd was responsible for organizing the protest. According to emails obtained by Colorado Community Media, Able Shepherd’s organization of the protest included details all the way down to what time to arrive, talking points for the protest and the coordination of matching T-shirts.
Less than a week after the protest, Able Shepherd was going to be a vendor at a “Safety in Faith” summit hosted by the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office. The event included presentations by local experts in the field of safety and security, demonstrations and vendor booths, according to the event page.
Brown said his office does not have a formal partnership with Able Shepherd, but the group was going to be at the event to share information with attendees about the services they offered.
After the Castle Rock PrideFest protest and the information showing a “possible connection” to Able Shepherd, Brown’s office asked the group to not be a vendor at their summit.
“We didn't want this to be a conversation of Able Shepherd and any actions that could be construed as being connected to the Pride event that happened in Castle Rock,” Brown said.
“We wanted to make sure that we were providing a platform for all houses of worship to come and not feel like their platform or their ability to get that information was being hijacked by another narrative," he said.
Brown said the decision is rooted in the belief in the First Amendment. Those participating in PrideFest were exercising their rights of free speech, he said, and the protest disrupted their ability to exercise those rights.
He wanted everyone who attended the summit to feel they were welcome and included, he said.
In a statement, Able Shepherd’s operations manager, Melissa Papulias, denied the group’s official involvement in the protest and said Able Shepherd CEO Jimmy Graham and others were there in their capacities as individuals, not on behalf of the group.
Emails organizing the event, however, show the organization’s involvement.
Brown said that key players being involved in the protest was enough to make it clear to him and his staff that they should not be at the summit.
“Key players from Able Shepherd were instrumental,” in the protest, Brown said. “Community members felt that it was an associated event and that was one of the reasons that we decided to not include them in (the summit) ... The coincidence was just too close."
Brown said his department has no formal partnerships with the group and does not plan on including Able Shepherd in future events.
“Moving forward, I don't think that we will include them in in certain situations if this is going to continue to be their stance,” he said.
Brown said the sheriff’s office provides a high level of training and expertise to help community members come up with safety plans, so the department has no need for a partnership with Able Shepherd.
“I don't want to partner with people who aren't inclusive to every group in our community,” Brown said. “I think it's important that that we're open, and we have honest discussions with each other, and that every voice at the table needs to be heard — and I don't want one voice excluded because of the actions of a singular group.”
Brown said his exclusion of Able Shepherd from participating in the summit was not impeding their first amendment rights because they have many other venues to share their message.
“Everybody knows that Able Shepherd is still a company that provides that training,” he said. “Me not including them in that one event didn't exclude them from still sharing their message.”
Following the PrideFest protest, Arapahoe Community College also cut ties with Able Shepherd.
Editor's note: One of Brown's quotes in this story was amended for clarity at 1:13 p.m. on Sept. 6.
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