Barwick made the right call on public access in Taser case
August 1, 2006
Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick made the correct decision in releasing information from the investigation into the June 7 Taser incident.Barwick fired officer Melinda Calvano for using her Taser on a 63-year-old homeless woman who was rifling through boxes stacked up behind The Thrift Store. So far community response about the firing has been mixed. Comments about the firing on The Aspen Times website have come down both for and against the firing.The information from the investigation sheds new light on the incident. Hopefully, it will allow community members to better understand the use of Tasers and the difficult decisions police officers face in performing their jobs. It may also provoke a community conversation about how Aspen polices itself.It’s unfortunate that the city and its police department were unwilling to release even the most basic facts and observations from the incident between Calvano and Carol Alexy. With only the most bare facts of the case available to the public, a perception developed that Calvano used her Taser on a little old lady. But the situation was actually much more complicated than that.The report reveals the tension that developed as the diminutive police officer tried to gain control over the much larger suspect, who is more than 6 feet tall and weighs about 180 pounds. It lays out the interactions between the two. And it gives readers at least some sense of why Calvano made the decisions she made.It’s difficult to understand why Calvano used an electric shock to exert control over Alexy, when Alexy was sitting on the ground. But, then again, it’s not that hard to have at least some empathy for Calvano, who alone was facing a potential confrontation with a much larger woman. By releasing the investigation, Barwick complied with Colorado’s Open Records Act. As we’ve said before, investigations into improper use of force by police officers should not be buried in their personnel files. They are public records that deserve a public airing.Now that we as a community know what happened, we can ask hard questions about the way the police department is run. Or not. Instead, the investigation may simply provide a lesson in the very difficult decisions police officers face as a matter of course, especially concerning the use of force, and show that sometimes they will make the wrong decision. The important thing is that the community has access to the information and can decide for itself how to use it – or not.