DA: Fired officers still figure in cases
District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said he hasn’t ruled out the possibility that any of the three Grand Junction police officers fired for damaging a transient camp could be called to testify in criminal cases they worked.
“Just because they’re let go doesn’t necessarily mean I wouldn’t put them on the witness stand if we thought it was important enough,” Hautzinger said in an interview late last week.
“There was nothing in the internal investigation which indicates dishonesty (on the part of three former officers) we’ve been made aware of,” the DA added.
By law, prosecutors are required to disclose confirmed instances of lying by a police officer, involved in an internal affairs matter, to defense attorneys, Hautzinger said.
Hautzinger’s assessment came after he said he recently has instructed his deputy prosecutors to comb their caseloads so they can pinpoint matters in which former officers Justin Roberts, Phillip Van Why and Joseph Mulcahy are endorsed witnesses. The three were fired June 3 by Police Chief John Camper after an internal investigation confirmed they slashed tents May 3 at a local transient camp and cut tires on bicycles, among other damage.
The DA said his office has identified two pending cases in which the testimony of either Roberts, Van Why or Mulcahy is “crucial” to winning a conviction. He didn’t identify defendants in those cases.
Hautzinger said he has considered offering plea bargains in the two cases, offers that wouldn’t have been made but for the trio’s firing, but said a final decision hasn’t been made in either case.
“(The former officers’) credibility would be somewhat hurt, but I don’t think it’s necessarily fatal to a case, either,” Hautzinger said, adding he doesn’t agree with an assessment that Roberts, Van Why and Mulcahy were “bad cops.”
“There’s certainly no indication here they were trying to beat confessions out of people,” Hautzinger said.
At the same time, he said he supports Camper’s efforts in the May 3 investigation and a new internal probe in the misuse of pepper spray.
Hautzinger declined to bring charges against Roberts, Van Why and Mulcahy, saying he couldn’t prove at trial that the three were responsible for the transient camp damage. They admitted involvement in an internal investigation, but declined to speak to investigators with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department during a criminal probe.
In an interview with The Daily Sentinel last month, the officers acknowledged cutting tents and tires but claimed they were acting within their training and past department practices. Letters of termination showed the officers expressed degrees of regret about the incident and acknowledged it could have been considered a crime.