Fate of police chief to be decided soon
November 7, 2007
ASPEN Whether suspended Police Chief Loren Ryerson will keep his job will be decided within two days.That’s according to City Manager Steve Barwick, who ultimately will decide whether to reinstate Ryerson as police chief or fire him as a result of sexual harassment allegations from former employees.Ryerson was put on paid administrative leave five weeks ago after the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency (CIRSA) – the city’s insurance and risk-management carrier – launched an investigation.CIRSA’s lead investigator, retired Denver police officer Timothy Leary, has submitted his findings to City Hall. Barwick received a copy of that report Monday.”Now I have to decide what I am doing,” Barwick said.Barwick wouldn’t comment on the report’s contents, citing a personnel matter, and the state’s open records law are clear in what can and can’t be released to the public. Barwick plans to discuss the investigation and its conclusion with Ryerson this week, and make an announcement on the chief’s employment status Friday. Ryerson will receive a copy of the report, with the names of those interviewed during the investigation redacted.Barwick met with city attorney John Worcester and special counsel Jim True on Tuesday to discuss the matter. Barwick said those discussions will continue this week, and he will inform City Council members before making a public announcement concerning Ryerson’s future. One of Ryerson’s attorneys, local corporate lawyer and personal friend Neil Karbank, said Wednesday that he was not aware of the report and nothing has been submitted to his office or the police chief. City department heads noticed months ago that a common theme had surfaced in exit interviews from former police department employees who were critical of Ryerson’s management style. Some alleged sexual harassment, and others witnessed inappropriate behavior, sources said.Ryerson issued a public statement last month denying any wrongdoing, and said the allegations are “totally false, and I am confident that the investigation will prove that they are nothing more than malicious hearsay and cruel gossip.”A full-page advertisement in local newspapers this week listed more than 100 community members who support Ryerson.There are many critics of Ryerson, as well. Leary interviewed several local law enforcement officers, including a former officer who appears to be central to the allegations, as part of the probe.Renee Rayton, who left the department in May and is now a deputy with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, was one of the first officers interviewed. She has declined to speak to the press.Leary is an investigator for Light, Harrington & Dawes, a Denver-based law firm with which CIRSA has contracted. If the city has probable cause to terminate Ryerson, he might not have a legal basis on which to sue the local government, said Glenwood Springs-based civil rights attorney Sandy Karp. However, if Ryerson is cleared of any misconduct, it’s likely he could successfully argue a civil rights violation, Karp said.In addition to the assistance of Karbank, Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber & Schreck, which specializes in employment issues, reportedly is representing Ryerson. The national firm has an office in Glenwood Springs.Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is email@example.com.