Constituents continue to back Ryerson
October 13, 2007
ASPEN ” Aspen’s police chief may be under fire over allegations of misconduct on the job, but most of his constituents seem to feel he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Loren Ryerson is currently on administrative leave, reportedly with pay, pending the outcome of an investigation that includes charges that he sexually harassed at least one officer working in his department. The investigation is in the hands of the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency (CIRSA), which is the city’s insurance carrier, and reportedly has something to do with exit interviews of departing police officers that are conducted by the city’s human resources department .
The story broke on Oct. 9, and Ryerson’s only public reaction was to call the Aspen Leafs junior hockey program ” where he has been a volunteer and board member “and remove himself from organizational duties related to an upcoming hockey tournament.
“We stand behind him 100 percent,” declared a woman connected to the program, who demanded anonymity.
Rick Newton, president of the Aspen junior hockey board of directors, said Ryerson stepped back because “he felt he had to devote time to dealing with saving his reputation, and that of his family and all of that.”
Newton said the hockey board has not discussed the matter formally. Newton added that, “I feel really sad. I don’t know what the deal is, totally. I feel sorry for him and hope everything works out.”
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Beyond the hockey program, Ryerson had refused to make any public statement about the matter.
On Friday, Ryerson went on the offensive, being interviewed on the air by a local radio host and sending letters to the editors of the two local newspapers (see “Ryerson’s letter to the press”).
In the letter, addressed “To the people of Aspen, Colorado,” Ryerson declares that “the allegations against me are totally false … nothing more than malicious hearsay and cruel gossip.”
But, he continues, the accusations are “enormously hurtful [to] me, my family and another innocent third party [who is not named in the letter].”
On the streets of Aspen, a reporter conducted an unscientific survey with numerous locals who all were aware of the situation.
Some, however, were reluctant to talk about it for publication, such as one man who explained, “I like the cops to be on my side,” would not give his name and declined to comment further.
“I think these things need to be taken seriously,” remarked Michael Fox of Aspen, adding, “We have a great police department here.”
Peggy McCafferty, manager of the Roots store in Aspen, at first was reluctant to comment.
“We don’t know what he’s accused of, the details, I mean, and he hasn’t had a chance to defend himself,” she remarked. “I’m very curious, but I don’t want to condemn him until we have the facts.”
Another employee at Roots, Cynthia Jankowski of Aspen, was mildly outraged to learn that Ryerson is collecting a paycheck while he is on leave.
“He shouldn’t get paid,” she declared. “If that ever happened to us, we’d get fired.”
For local musician Dan Sheridan, the jury remains out.
“How can I know [how to feel about the matter]?” he asked. “Maybe he’s completely innocent. You can’t condemn him.”
Asked whether he thought the accusations and news of the investigation ought to have been kept secret, he said, “Maybe … until there’s some proof, some evidence of wrongdoing.”
On the other side of the issue, local real estate broker and political activist Tim Mooney, who has criticized Ryerson over past police actions, said that the chief’s current troubles are not surprising.
“I think that the dominoes are starting to fall,” he said.
Mooney pointed to Ryerson’s acquiescence in permitting a controversial drug raid on two Aspen restaurants in December of 2005, during business hours by agents carrying guns, as just one of what Mooney sees as “the irresponsibilities that have accumulated in his track record … coming home to roost.
“I think he’s lost track of the community that he lives in … he thought as chief of police he had some kind of invisibility,” Mooney concluded.
But for Tish Leslie, an assistant in a local real estate office, “It’s just like Clarence Thomas [the U.S. Supreme Court justice who, during his confirmation hearing, was accused of sexual harassment by his former assistant, Anita Hill]. You don’t know [what’s truly going on] because it’s a case of he said-she said.”