Grand Junction police internal review criticized
Concerns raised as court upholds dismissal of suit
Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper said the department has abolished internal practices recently cited by a federal appeals court as “concerning” or “troubling.”
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals said in a June 5 decision that the alleged victim of the late police officer Glenn Coyne failed to show in a civil lawsuit how supervisors, or the city of Grand Junction, should be held liable for her alleged rape by Coyne in September 2009.
The decision affirms the judgment of U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger, who dismissed the woman’s lawsuit in February 2012.
“Although the police department’s handling of Officer Coyne could and should have been better, we are bound to follow the law and apply it to the evidentiary record before us, and affirm the district court,” the 10th Circuit wrote.
Coyne, 35, committed suicide Oct. 6, 2009, five days after he was arrested on suspicion of burglary and sexual assault related to an incident at a woman’s Grand Junction home on Sept. 29, 2009.
Coyne, who was granted permission by his supervising sergeant to leave work early, allegedly entered his alleged victim’s home unannounced in the predawn hours and forcibly raped the woman in her living room. Coyne claimed the sex was consensual.
Command staff review
The 10th Circuit Court raised concerns about how Coyne was supervised and highlighted department policy back in 2009.
When an internal investigation was completed, the department’s command staff review (CSR) policy mandated meetings to be convened to discuss the case and ultimately make recommendations on discipline, according to the decision.
The direct supervisor of the person under investigation participated in those reviews.
“In (Coyne’s) case what is relevant about the CSR is not the CSR policy itself, but an unwritten custom at GJPD of not holding a CSR in matters involving sexual misconduct,” the decision said.
It was decided not to convene a command review following an internal investigation into allegations lodged by another woman against Coyne in December 2008, who claimed she was sexually assaulted in her home when Coyne was off-duty, according to the decision.
The District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute Coyne in the matter. In the end, Coyne was placed on probation for six months and his pay was cut 10 percent.
The 10th Circuit questioned the effective removal of Coyne’s supervising sergeant from the process.
“Logically, it would make sense that if Officer Coyne’s supervisor had known about the reasons for his probation, that some restrictions might have been imposed,” the decision said.
When Coyne’s supervising sergeant formally requested information on why Coyne was on probation, the request was denied by superiors.
“We cannot say that keeping these details from the sergeant put into motion a series of events that any of the individual defendants knew or should have known would result in officer Coyne committing a violent felony,” the court said. Things work differently today in Grand Junction, Camper said last week.
Command staff reviews are still occasionally convened, but the body no longer hands out discipline, he said. That’s now done in the normal chain of command.
“If we were to have an employee on a probationary period, the supervisor would very much be apprised as to why,” the chief said.
“There’s no winner here,” Camper said last week. “This is a tragic case and none of us get any joy from the result.”
Incident as deputy
Former Chief Bill Gardner testified in a deposition during the lawsuit he was unaware of a formal complaint filed against Coyne stemming from a drug raid at a home on Jan. 8, 2007. Coyne was employed with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department at the time.
The woman who lodged the complaint claimed Coyne rubbed and groped her crotch area at least twice, while Coyne’s third alleged try was stopped when another officer walked into the room.
Coyne’s start date with the Grand Junction Police Department was Jan. 15, 2007 — a formal background check on Coyne ran through December 2006.
The Sheriff’s Department didn’t inform the Police Department about the 2007 complaint until after Coyne’s most-recent alleged victim came forward in September 2009, the decision said.
“Chief Gardner made the ultimate hiring decision, and he testified at his deposition that if he had known about the (2007) complaint, he would have delayed and/or terminated Officer Coyne’s hiring,” the decision said.