Residents deserve more details in tent case
The Grand Junction Police Department has provided 11 new tents to a group of transients who said that officers vandalized their tents early last month.
Three officers have been on paid administrative leave since May 7, which was two days after a complaint was filed with the department about vandalism that occurred at a camp along the Colorado River.
Transients said that eight tents in the encampment were slashed open, bicycle tires were punctured and rope lines used for drying clothing and other shelters were cut down.
The offer of new tents by the police department through an intermediary, Jacob Richards of an advocacy group called Housing First! No More Deaths!, suggests that there is more to the story than Grand Junction residents might like.
Richards isn’t just an intermediary. He filed the original complaint, so the police department’s action amounts to an admission that officers were involved in some wrongdoing.
While the transients involved might be owed new tents, the rest of the city is owed an explanation.
First and most important, we can start with the identities of the officers involved.
Exactly how it is that it took nearly a month from the time the complaint was filed until the department offered up replacement tents also needs to be made clear.
The facts seem fairly clear: Three police officers go into an encampment and when they leave, it’s in considerably worse shape than before their arrival.
Much as we don’t relish the implications here, they’re pretty clear. If they’re that destructive of a transient encampment, we might infer they’re just as indifferent to the owner’s rights of more traditional forms of private property, such as houses and vehicles.
It seems that for the investigation to have continued for as long as it did, the officers must have been stonewalling, or the city was evaluating what best to make of the tangle in which it found itself. Neither can bode well for the city’s ultimate legal exposure in this case. The officers, after all, were acting under color of authority.
Supplying tents to the transients involved won’t change any of those facts.
About the only thing that can be done now to mitigate things is to provide a full accounting of the facts, including the identities of the officers and their punishment, if any, beyond suspension with pay.
We’re told that the police department will make a statement this week. We expect it will be complete.