Joel Stonington

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July 14, 2006
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Chief to keep Taser investigation findings secret

The Aspen Police Department isn't planning to release the results of an internal investigation it launched after an officer shot a 63-year-old homeless woman with a Taser.Chief Loren Ryerson on Friday said the findings will remain private but the department likely will release the police report related to the incident. "You'll know that it's over with," Ryerson said, "but that's it."On June 7, officer Melinda Calvano disabled Carol Alexy with her Taser gun. Alexy allegedly was trying to steal a sweater from boxes behind The Thrift Shop on East Hopkins Avenue.Ryerson has declined to say why Calvano thought it was appropriate to use her Taser on Alexy. Immediately after the incident, Ryerson said his officer's statement is part of her personnel file and that Colorado law prohibits releasing that information.Steve Zansberg, a lawyer who represents several newspapers and other media outlets in Colorado, said the findings of the internal investigation should be released when the investigation is finished. "It's not a personnel file because it does relate to her official conduct," Zansberg said. "Internal affairs files are not personnel files."Zansberg referred to the Colorado Public Records Law, part of a collection of public information laws known as the Sunshine Laws."It's a question of when, not if, the document should be disclosed," he said.Aspen City Attorney John Worcester disagreed, siding with Ryerson that the results of an internal investigation are a personnel matter. "He may give you a summary of what was concluded," Worcester said. "The investigation itself is still a personnel matter."Zansberg, however, said the results should be available to the public because the investigation is looking into Calvano's actions while she was on duty. He said investigations into officials' misconduct when performing public duties are part of the public record; in such cases, the personnel exemption to the Sunshine Laws is generally limited to things like home addresses, phone numbers and financial information.The law allows Ryerson some discretion over whether to release some or all of the findings from the investigation, but a recent court ruling from the area indicates state courts would prefer the police department err on the side of disclosure.The 9th District Court last year ruled that the town of Carbondale must turn over the results of a 1995 internal investigation of officer Jose Munoz, who shot a man with a Taser six times during a traffic stop in 2004.Carbondale's Valley Journal newspaper contended that the 1995 internal investigation was a matter of public interest in light of Munoz's actions in the 2004 incident, which sparked outrage in the community. The town of Carbondale, however, refused access to the internal investigation, so the Valley Journal took the matter to court.In 2005, a judge ordered Carbondale to release the report."An officer's statement to investigators is not a personnel record," said Zansberg, who worked on the Valley Journal case. "For the Carbondale Valley Journal, we litigated this very issue. Internal affairs files are not personnel records. That ruling was that an internal affairs file had to be released."That is, the file has to be released once the investigation is done. While an investigation is ongoing, Zansberg said, there isn't a court in the country that would say any information should be released. "What sometimes happens is that agencies like this never complete an investigation," Zansberg said. "The public has a right to know how the police department polices itself."Ryerson said he wanted the investigation to be done as soon as possible."In the long run, people do need to know that these circumstances are being taken seriously," he said. "We're working for completion."In late June, Aspen police suggested they would finish the investigation by the end of the month, but by Friday, it was not finished.Ryerson said he hoped the investigation would be done Friday but that delays are out of his control. "We're working for as fast a resolution as possible," he said. "It's killing me that it's taking this long. It's not fair to anybody."Joel Stonington's e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Jul 14, 2006 10:21PM Published Jul 14, 2006 12:00AM Copyright 2006 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.