Former Aspen cop aims to put APD on trial
ASPEN – Legal arguments are heating up about an Aspen Police Department culture Melinda Calvano alleges was once rife with misconduct, sexual harassment and a double-standard approach toward female employees.
Calvano is suing the city of Aspen and City Manager Steve Barwick for wrongful termination, claiming she was a victim of gender bias, a hostile work environment and sexual harassment while she worked at the APD as a patrol officer. She filed the suit in Pitkin County District Court in August 2007 and is seeking an unspecified amount in damages for lost wages and benefits, and emotional distress and humiliation.
The city insists she was fired because she violated the department’s use-of-force policy when she Tasered a homeless woman in the alley behind the Thrift Shop of Aspen, located downtown. The incident occurred June 7, 2006; Calvano was fired by City Manager Steve Barwick on July 27, 2006.
Over the past month both sides have offered written arguments – as part of the lawsuit – over what evidence should be allowed in trial, which had been set for the end of this month but was postponed last week until a date to be named later.
A string of motions filed by Calvano attorney Marc Colin of Denver argue that evidence related to the behavioral issues of former Police Chief Loren Ryerson and at least one other officer should be allowed at trial in order to demonstrate that the APD fostered a work atmosphere favorable to male employees.
The city contends the allegations are irrelevant, lack merit and constitute “mudslinging.” And Friday, Barwick issued a statement regarding Calvano’s dismissal from the APD.
“Officer Calvano used poor judgment in Tasering a poor, elderly woman who was causing no harm to herself or others and I had no choice but to let her go,” said the city manager.
Calvano, however, maintains that Barwick was aware that Ryerson, during his tenure as police chief, sexually harassed female city employees. By doing so, Barwick condoned a double-standard at the police department, Calvano alleges.
Ryerson resigned from the APD in November 2007 and did not admit any wrongdoing as police chief. But a motion filed Jan. 7 by Calvano alleges that “the fact that … Barwick did not fire Chief Ryerson despite the severity of claims made against him, further establishes the pattern, practice, custom and policy of the City of Aspen condoning sexual harassment at the City. No evidence has been provided to demonstrate that any disciplinary action was taken against Chief Ryerson or would have been taken against Chief Ryerson for these actions had Chief Ryerson not tendered his resignation.”
And according to a November deposition by Rebecca Doane, the city’s former human resources manager, she once reported to Barwick that Ryerson, as police chief, harassed her sexually by looking at her in a manner that was “just very inappropriate, very intrusive and offensive.”
Excerpts from the deposition, included in one of Calvano’s motions, quote Doane as saying she told Barwick about her seemingly uncomfortable exchanges with Ryerson. In response, Barwick said, “I mean, he’s just a guy. Rebecca, he’s just a guy,” according to a transcript from Doane’s deposition. Ryerson, who also was deposed for the Calvano case, denied looking at Doane inappropriately, court documents show.
Calvano’s attorney also contends that other male officers exhibited unbecoming behavior while she was a police officer at the APD.
“Indeed, the evidence will show that male officers engaged in questionable actions that violated the values, philosophy and mission statement of the Aspen Police Department and violated polices of the City of Aspen,” reads another motion, also dated Jan. 7.
The motion alleges that on one occasion a community officer – whom it does not identify by name but apparently is Rick Magnuson – used the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s computer system to “pull information regarding his civilian girlfriend and warned her about an active warrant for which she was going to be arrested.”
But, the motion continues, “despite these actions, there is no evidence to suggest this individual was ever disciplined for his actions and he was later hired for a Police Officer position.”
The motion claims that “for a male officer to take these type of actions and to receive no discipline, though the actions are certainly of at least ‘comparable seriousness’ to the actions of the Plaintiff which are alleged to be the pretextual reason for her termination, demonstrates the disparate treatment that was prevalent in the City of Aspen and the Aspen Police Department.”
The city, through Grand Junction attorney Gary Doehling, contends much of the evidence is hearsay and not applicable to the Calvano case.
“The Defendant should not be forced to have ‘mini trials’ based on hearsay allegations concerning dissimilar incidents dating back many years involving people who may no longer be available to testify,” reads a Jan. 18 motion by the city. “Allowing this sort of mudslinging clearly presents the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by consideration of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.”
Now 37, Calvano is a police officer in Lone Tree, Colo.
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