Outspoken sheriff in balloon case says he's uneasy in spotlight

FORT COLLINS, Colo. —The sheriff at the center of the runaway balloon saga says he's not enjoying the media spotlight, but that's never stopped the John Wayne fan from using it to offer brash opinions on hot topics.

Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden once used his blog to label a nearby city "the imbecilic borough of Boulder" for being too secular for his taste. At a nationally televised news conference Oct. 18, he declared that much of what's on TV is "garbage."

Alderden, who has worked in law enforcement for 37 years, wasn't well known outside his home county until Oct. 15, when the saga of a boy feared carried away on a balloon captivated a live television audience of millions. Since then, he's been a frequent presence on TV, in newspapers and on the Internet.

At first, he told the world he believed Richard and Mayumi Heene when they said they feared their 6-year-old son was aboard the balloon.

Two days later, Alderden accused the Heenes of perpetrating a hoax for publicity and said he would recommend criminal charges. He said he had only pretended to believe the couple to gain their confidence while deputies investigated.

Since then, he's received e-mails that praise him as a hero or denounce him as a bumbler. A Denver Post editorial suggested his public pretense about believing the Heenes will make residents more cynical about law enforcement.

But people who know Alderden say he's a dedicated officer who has raised his department's professionalism in this county of 290,000 residents.

In a blog entry Wednesday, the sheriff said he didn't like the media attention the balloon case generated but that was proud of his department's response. He didn't respond to an interview request Friday.