Former cop drops suit, gets payment
The Aspen City Council has decided to pay off a former Aspen cop, rather than continue to fight his year-old claims that he was dismissed and disciplined unfairly late in 1997.
Alan Shinderman is being paid $120,000 in return for dropping a lawsuit against Aspen as well as a complaint filed with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, according to City Attorney John Worcester.
The settlement was finalized on Jan. 20.
Worcester said only $30,000 of the settlement is to be paid by the city’s insurance fund. The rest will come from the city’s coffers directly.
Shinderman was dismissed in December 1997, after two psychologists found that he was mentally unfit to perform the duties of a policeman.
The psychological testing was ordered by Police Chief Tom Stephenson on the basis of reports he received concerning Shinderman’s conduct and performance of his job. According to published reports at the time, Stephenson was concerned that Shinderman’s accounts of certain incidents “were at odds or conflicted with incident reports filed by your fellow officers.”
Shinderman also was accused of having, during a Ruggerfest weekend, “threatened or joked” about pulling his gun on someone who was wielding a squirt gun.
According to Shinderman’s lawsuit, filed in Pitkin County District Court, he was placed on administrative leave with pay in late September 1997. In October, two psychologists hired to evaluate Shinderman concluded that he was not fit to perform his job and should be fired. The exact nature of any incidents or behaviors that led to this conclusion are not detailed in the lawsuit documents.
Shinderman appealed his subsequent dismissal to the city manager’s office, although City Manager Amy Margerum disqualified herself as a hearing officer because she had been in on the decision to dismiss Shinderman. Assistant City Manager Steve Barwick, in the wake of the hearing, upheld Stephenson’s decision.
Worcester said Tuesday that Shinderman filed a claim with the Colorado Fire and Police Pension Fund, but took the unusual position that he (Shinderman) did not think he was disabled or qualified for a pension. Worcester said psychologists working for the Fund found Shinderman to be fit to go back to work, contradicting the findings of the city’s psychologists.
This, Worcester said, left the city in the position of either rehiring Shinderman and giving him a year’s back pay, or agreeing to pay him a third of his paycheck every year for the rest of his life, as required by state labor laws in such situations. Worcester said the police department was reluctant to hire Shinderman back, noting that the general feeling was “we’d have major liability problems if we had an officer on the streets who two psychologists had judged unfit to serve.”
According to Worcester, after weeks of negotiations, Shinderman agreed to the settlement. In addition, the state Civil Rights Commission agreed to drop the complaint Shinderman filed, alleging he was the victim of discrimination based on age (he was 43 when he was fired), religion (he is of Jewish descent) and ethnic-background (he is Cuban).
Assistant Police Chief Keith Ikeda said part of the settlement was an agreement that the department’s public position is that Shinderman resigned, and that the department would not discuss the case in any detail. Stephenson is out of town.
Shinderman, who could not be located for comment, began work as an Aspen policeman on May 16, 1994, according to department records. A Cuban immigrant and former Wall Street stock broker, he moved to Aspen in 1993 to get away from the hectic life of New York City.
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Colorado has been hit with a substantial spike in COVID-19 cases, with one in 41 residents believed to be contagious. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, warned during a virtual news conference that Colorado is not alone in seeing a spike in cases and pleaded with people not to travel or gather in large groups.