Probable cause to question CSP culture

Now that Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger has declined to prosecute another former Colorado State Patrol trooper — this one for possibly falsifying DUI arrest records — people have good reason to question what’s happening with the CSP in this region.

Those questions should be asked not just by average citizens, but by folks like Col. James Wolfinbarger, chief of the State Patrol. Wolfinbarger spent two years in the Grand Junction CSP office, so he should have a particular interest what occurs here. His bosses, James H. Davis, head of the Colorado Department of Public Safety, and Gov. John Hickenlooper, should also be asking questions and demanding answers.

For it appears there is a culture of “the end justifies the means” — for a few, certainly not all — of the CSP troopers and officers in this region. Left unchanged, it may well cause further problems with people charged with protecting our safety.

The case Hautziner declined to prosecute this week involved former Trooper Donald Moseman. Separated from the CSP in December, Moseman reportedly had a bias against anyone he suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol, and he allegedly included information from previous DUI arrests and falsifying a number of his DUI arrest reports.

Hautzinger said he didn’t believe he could win a conviction against Moseman on criminal charges. But he dismissed a dozen pending cases handled by the trooper. And this week, Hautzinger said he plans to seek dismissal of convictions against 10 people who were arrested by Moseman.

It was Colorado State Patrol officials in this region who conducted the internal investigation of Moseman’s actions and prepared the first report that led to his leaving the State Patrol.  But that occurred after prosecutors and others began raising questions about Moseman’s cases.

More notorious was the case involving Trooper Ivan “Gene” Lawyer and Cpl. Kirk Firko, who followed a DUI suspect to his home and argued with him at his door, where Lawyer shot and killed the man, Jason Kemp. Lawyer was not found guilty of any charges during a jury trial in Grand Junction in April, and Hautzinger dismissed charges against Firko last week.

Also in April, a CSP trooper in Glenwood Springs got in a high-speed chase with a motorist through Glenwood Canyon that reached speeds of 125 mph. One must ask how much danger other motorists on the road were placed in as a result of this chase through the narrow canyon.

The State Patrol, like any organization, reflects its leadership. The accumulation of disturbing conduct by CSP troopers signals a larger problem in the organization. But such problems can be fixed. See Chief John Camper of the Grand Junction Police Department. He took over a troubled department with a few errant officers and made needed changes quickly.


COMMENTS

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The troops in and around this area are small enough where the culture we have observed could or should not have escaped the notice of the command structure. Trust and credibility is automatically bestowed upon our Law Enforcement community and is theirs to keep or lose.  Once lost, as in the case of the Colorado State Patrol, drastic action steps need to be taken if any respect for these troopers and their supervisors is to be restored.  The command structure for Troop 4A that has allowed this “John Wayne” culture to flourish should be reassigned to other areas where perhaps they can learn modern techniques of police supervision and they themselves be more closely monitored.  As for the culture left behind with the existing officers, ideally they should be distributed across the state where perhaps a better trained troop would keep them updated on constitutional law and the rights of private citizens.

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