Police ease policy on records after Brainard case
Former Grand Junction City Councilor Rick Brainard’s brief and rocky stint in office has left its mark in unexpected ways.
Brainard’s criminal case was partially cited by the Grand Junction Police Department for the agency’s recent shift in policy concerning the release of arrest records. Under long-standing policy in Grand Junction, the agency routinely removed suspect statements from all arrest affidavits released upon request to the media.
So, when Brainard was arrested April 6 on suspicion of domestic violence against his girlfriend, the then-councilor-elect’s full statement to police was removed from the document released by the department that same day.
The Daily Sentinel obtained an unfettered version of the public record and first reported its contents on April 9, including Brainard’s alleged admission he’d struck the woman because she needed to “shut her mouth.”
The practice of censoring arrest records released to media was under scrutiny before Brainard’s arrest, Grand Junction police spokeswoman Kate Porras said.
“We had been considering changing this policy anyway out of concern that it was unnecessarily restrictive,” Porras said. “(Brainard’s) case highlighted the need to relax our policy on suspect statements and after consultation with the DA, that’s what we did.”
Porras has described the redaction policy as an effort by the Police Department to protect suspects’ rights to a fair trial. It prohibited the release of any “information about the existence or content of a suspect’s confession, admission, or statement,” Porras said, citing specific language of the mandate.
The policy was in place at least the past six years, she said.
The issue was revisited in early May by police leadership, which also consulted the District Attorney’s Office and Mesa County Sheriff’s Department, Porras said.
Steven Zansberg, a Denver attorney who represents members of the Colorado Press Association, including the Sentinel, said the Colorado Supreme Court has blessed the authority of criminal justice agencies to disclose only portions of documents, instead of withholding documents in their entirety because disclosure of certain portions would be “contrary to the public interest.”
“The high court instructed such custodians to exercise the power of redaction sparingly in order to maximize the amount of information made available to the public,” Zansberg said.
Brainard resigned from the City Council on July 18, a little more than two months after he was sworn into office and facing a possible recall election. The former councilor is serving an 18-month deferred judgment stemming from a guilty plea to third-degree assault relating to his April arrest.