GJ officer quits in probe
A Grand Junction Police Department officer has resigned and another has been placed on paid leave after being questioned in an internal investigation focusing on claims that officers have misused OC, or pepper spray, on property belonging to transients, Police Chief John Camper said Wednesday.
Camper, who confirmed the probe to The Daily Sentinel, said approximately half a dozen officers have been interviewed during the ongoing investigation.
The investigation arose from claims made during interviews in another investigation, conducted through May and early June, which resulted in the firings of three officers for cutting tents and causing other damage May 3 at a local transient camp, according to the chief.
“At this stage, the incidents we’ve been made aware of have not been serious enough to warrant termination,” Camper said of the new probe. “This hasn’t yielded any information we feel needs to be investigated criminally.”
To date, the chief said the department has confirmed what he called “a small number of incidents” in which officers inappropriately applied pepper spray on transient property, such as sleeping bags, during the course of police contacts. Camper didn’t offer specific dates, locations or identify those involved, but said some of the incidents were “dated,” while others happened “a couple months ago.”
Camper confirmed one officer, who was questioned during the investigation, offered his resignation Friday, two days after another officer was placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the probe, which is standard procedure.
On June 21, police administration issued a “special order” to all officers, which Camper characterized as a reminder of when pepper spray can be used.
“There is nothing in (GJPD) policy that allows for OC spray to be utilized as anything other than a defensive weapon,” reads a copy of the order. “OC Spray shall not be used as a deterrent to keep individuals away from certain locations such as trees or vacant buildings, and shall certainly not be used in a manner that may be perceived as harassing or retaliatory in nature.”
According to Camper, the probe was started after Justin Roberts, Phillip Van Why and Joseph Mulcahy — who since have been fired — told investigators focusing on the May 3 incident at a local transient camp that their colleagues had used the defensive weapons on transient properties.
Camper said Roberts, Van Why and Mulcahy implicated specific officers during the internal investigation and during their appeal hearings before Deputy City Manager Rich Englehart on June 22.
“We were asked about specific events and specific officers, and we answered truthfully,” Erik Groves, an attorney representing the three former officers, said when asked to explain his clients’ involvement in the new probe. He declined further comment.
City officials Tuesday rejected an appeal lodged by the trio, who argued their actions on May 3 were consistent with their training and past practices of the Grand Junction Police Department.
Camper said he anticipates the new internal probe will wrap up in another two weeks.