Former Aspen police officer gets $10K in severance, agrees not to sue city
ASPEN – Valerie McFarlane, the Aspen police officer who left her post last month, resigned and was given $10,000 from the city as part of a severance package, according to records released Wednesday.
The terms of a release and waiver agreement stipulate that McFarlane cannot sue the city of Aspen for issues arising from her employment at the police department, which began in August 2008.
McFarlane and Alissa Farrell, director of the city’s human resource department, signed the agreement March 8. The city released the agreement following an open records request from The Aspen Times.
In an interview Wednesday, Police Chief Richard Pryor said the $10,000 payoff was partly a business decision, and also based on “providing some sort of support.”
“This is a compassionate community and when we can have latitude to provide support, I think we should do that,” he said.
Pryor noted that McFarlane could have sued had she not resigned.
“Any consequence of an employee separation is the potential of going to litigation,” Pryor said.
Pryor declined to say whether McFarlane was asked to resign, or whether she faced termination if she did not quit. Pryor said he expects to hear criticism about McFarlane’s exit package.
“I absolutely acknowledge that there are people who will not like this decision,” he said, “and think that it’s the wrong decision.”
Pryor declined to discuss the events that caused McFarlane, who was earning close to $53,000 annually, to resign.
According to personnel action forms regarding McFarlane, the officer was given four days of unpaid suspension beginning Sept. 13, 2009. The suspension came after McFarlane gained free VIP access to the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival for herself, and friends and family. She was wearing her badge at the time, but was off duty.
And most recently, McFarlane, who completed an ethics training course in October, was suspended for one day – Feb. 25. Her last day on the job was Feb. 26.
The suspension and resignation came after McFarlane had given Aspen Daily News editor Troy Hooper a ride in a police vehicle to a Ute Avenue residence in the early morning hours of Feb. 19. Pryor learned about the incident Feb. 22.
Hooper, who had written at least two stories about McFarlane’s troubles at the police department, had been driving his vehicle shortly before he was given a ride, Pryor said in an interview last week.
McFarlane, who was on duty at the time, recorded a conversation the two had after she parked her patrol car at the Ute Avenue residence. In the recording, Hooper tells McFarlane that “you have also been fairly or unfairly put in a position. Not only am I willing to give you the opportunity to walk away from that, I’ll give you a few of those opportunities, I really will.”
Hooper also said, “I want to give you a second chance just like you are giving me a second chance. Easily you could put me in jail and say ‘you know what, this guy’s been drinking, blah, blah, blah…'”
Pryor would not talk specifically about that incident Wednesday, but has noted that officers are given discretion to drive motorists home when they appear to be intoxicated. But Pryor has maintained that misuse of that discretion is not tolerated by the department.
And, in a previous interview when he addressed the Hooper/McFarlane encounter, Pryor said: “I think, given the past experience of both individuals, I would have expected or would have thought that a more logical response would have been for [McFarlane] to call for assistance or back-up, someone else who would have been less involved in the situation to come and either help guide or take over the situation and remove a possible conflict.”
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