Probe of former officer kept secret
Grand Junction city officials said documents from a pair of internal investigations involving a former Grand Junction Police Department officer will remain under wraps.
The decision appears to fly in the face of state law and represents a clear “abuse of discretion,” according to an attorney with the Colorado Press Association.
In a letter signed by Interim Grand Junction Chief John Camper and City Attorney John
Shaver, which was sent to The Daily Sentinel on Friday, they formally denied a request filed by the newspaper last week to review documents under The Colorado Open Records Act.
The Sentinel asked the city to produce all reports, memoranda, notes and affidavits generated by the Grand Junction Police Department in the course of two internal investigations of former Grand Junction police officer Courtney Crooks, who was arrested Aug. 28.
In the city’s response, officials wrote that disclosure was “contrary to the public interest,” and it would violate the department’s policies for internal affairs investigations.
They also said release of the information would have a “chilling effect” for employees and anyone considering lodging a complaint against law enforcement.
“... Employees must know that the internal investigation process is fair and will reasonably evaluate complaints, alleged misconduct and performance without unnecessary public scrutiny,” officials said. “This is especially true when an allegation is unfounded or unsustained.”
The city’s position runs counter to a series of recent Colorado court decisions that say disclosure is in the public’s interest, according to CPA attorney Steven Zansberg.
“Internal affairs secrecy contributes to the ‘code of silence’ or ‘blue wall,’ by creating the expectation that things will be kept in house and away from objective outsiders,” Denver District Court Judge Catherine Lemon wrote in a 2005 decision. “Knowing that they (law enforcement) will be scrutinized makes investigators do a better job and makes them and the department more accountable to the public.”
Crooks, 24, resigned from the department on Sept. 16 and had been on unpaid leave following his arrest on allegations of misdemeanor harassment of his wife.
The city initially refused to confirm whether Crooks resigned or was fired. The city also first denied access to Crooks’ letter of resignation, but it provided a copy to The Daily Sentinel after being contacted by an attorney representing the newspaper.