Newly retired Cortez Police Chief Roy Lane, a beloved and respected law enforcement leader who served as Cortez chief for 39 years, died Friday afternoon.
Lane, 75, had been undergoing treatments for a chronic illness, according to friends and city of Cortez officials. He died at his home surrounded by his family.
A service will be held at 4 p.m. Dec. 28 at the Cortez Recreation Center, 425 Roger Smith Ave. A reception will follow at the recreation center.
Memorial contributions can be made in Lane’s name to Hospice of Montezuma, P.O. Box 740, Cortez, CO 81321 or to the 100 Club of Montezuma County, 35 S. Beech St. No. 1101, Cortez, CO 81321.
As a career lawman, Lane was known for his professionalism, tireless work ethic, wry humor, and love for his staff, family, friends and community.
He was the longest-serving police chief in Colorado, said Lt. Andy Brock, and has been a law enforcement officer for 54 years.
“Watching him as a leader, he was always in control and in command,” said Brock, who worked with Lane for 24 years. “How much he cared for people really stood out, for his staff, family, friends and citizens. He was embedded in the community.”
He always gave credit to his staff for a job well done, Brock continued, and people around him stepped up to meet his high standards.
When it was time to encourage improvement, he would communicate through wry humor.
“How long have you worked here — not counting today?” was an occasional ribbing from Lane.
“He kept us on our toes,” Brock said.
His passing is “heartbreaking,” said Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin. “We will miss him a lot.”
As a Cortez police officer, Nowlin worked under Lane for many years in the 1980s.
“He helped me and the other young officers learn the job and perform with integrity and professionalism,” he said. “I learned from Roy the importance of listening to people, doing things the right way. As a young officer, I caused him some aggravation, I’m sure. When something was not right, he would make us go back and fix it, and we did.”
Over the years, Nowlin and Lane kept in touch and worked on cases and community problems together.
“We met often, and I’d bounce issues and ideas off him. He has helped me as sheriff,” Nowlin said. “Roy was a natural leader, and we followed his example.”
“He had great input, and looked for innovative solutions,” Nowlin said. “He was open to new ideas.”
One of Lane’s goals was to establish a detox center and inpatient mental health facility in the county, and that effort will continue, Nowlin said.
While chief, Lane handled many high-profile cases, including bank robberies, murders and drug trafficking. He led the investigation into the Cortez police officer Dale Claxton’s murder in 1998, which triggered to the state’s largest ever manhunt in Southwest Colorado and Utah. As chief, he also investigated the 2001 death of Fred Martinez, a Navajo student at Montezuma-Cortez High School who was murdered south of Cortez. The case got national attention and sparked a discussion about the LGBTQ community, garnering press from The Washington Post at the time and inspiring a now-popular PBS documentary “Two Spirits.”
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis recently signed a proclamation honoring Lane’s service to law enforcement as the longest-serving chief in Colorado history.
Cortez Mayor Karen Sheek said the proclamation was presented to Lane’s family at a community dinner held in his honor Friday at the Cortez Police Department.
The fact that the wider community is grieving, not just law enforcement, is testament to Lane’s influence in Cortez and the wider county, Sheek said.
“His commitments were not limited to his job,” she said. “We are all one big family in this area, and we are grieving like we lost a family member.”
She says his compassion is a value that will live on in Cortez.
For example, Cortez officers are known for treating the local homeless population with dignity and respect, Sheek said.
“That came from Roy’s training,” she said. “In other communities, you might see a more impatient attitude from police, but Roy had compassion and knew as people, we have the obligation to help one another.”
The city of Cortez recently named the municipal court the Roy Lane Courtroom.
His integrity and love of the law enforcement profession defines Lane’s legacy, colleagues said.
“He was the boss, but always spread out the credit,” Brock said. “Everyone looked his way. He never barged into a room, he was always invited.”