Police chief denies romance between fired officer and her superior
January 25, 2007
ASPEN Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson insisted Thursday that the alleged romantic involvement between two former employees did not compromise an internal investigation.In fact, Ryerson said “nothing happened” between former assistant police chief Glenn Schaffer and patrol officer Melinda Calvano, who both worked at the Aspen Police Department last year. The city fired Calvano for using a Taser stun gun on a homeless woman in June, and Schaffer later resigned to take a job as a police chief in Washington state. “They didn’t have a romantic relationship, they had a friendship,” Ryerson said.Ryerson’s remarks came a day after Calvano was in Aspen to attend a hearing for a chance to clear her name. Jim R. Carrigan, a former Colorado Supreme Court justice, continued the hearing to a later date not yet announced.”The only issue is whether she violated the use-of-force policy,” said City Attorney John Worcester.The hearing delved into Calvano’s actions when she confronted Carol Alexy, whom she suspected of stealing a sweater from The Thrift Store’s drop box, and zapped Alexy with a Taser. Alexy, who was homeless, later had to be taken to Aspen Valley Hospital. Ryerson subsequently appointed Assistant Police Chief Richard Pryor to investigate the matter, and City Manager Steve Barwick later fired Calvano for breaking the department’s use-of-force policy. Wednesday’s hearing was a preliminary or a practice disclosure hearing for a lawsuit from Calvano, Worcester said.Worcester said that city bosses should not supervise people with whom they are romantically involved. Family members and married couples work in adjoining city departments – Ryerson has a brother-in-law in the police department’s public safety division – but not in the same chain of command or supervising one another.”There are rumors all the time about people doing inappropriate things,” Ryerson said. “Rumors are rumors, and if they weren’t called rumors they’d be called facts.”And office gossip about a romantic relationship between Calvano and Schaffer had nothing to do with facts, Ryerson said, nor did it have anything to do with the investigation of Calvano.Had Ryerson reassigned Schaffer to the investigate Calvano when he’d already assigned Pryor, that would have been against procedure and inappropriate.It would have “queered the investigation,” Ryerson said.And when asked if office rumors had anything to do with Schaffer’s resignation, Ryerson said Schaffer had been promoted and was now chief of a police department in Washington.Ryerson did not encourage a prosecution of Calvano at the time of the incident, he said. The Aspen chief simply asked the district attorney whether the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s office would prosecute.”We wanted to know what we were up against,” Ryerson said.The DA’s office said it would not prosecute Calvano, nor would there be any charges against Alexy in the case.”My recommendation speaks for itself,” Ryerson said.He wanted to conduct an evaluation of Calvano, he said, and, if possible, to “recover her as an asset to the department.”But Barwick stepped in and fired Calvano, a move that both Ryerson and Worcester agreed was well within his rights.Under Colorado’s “at will” hiring laws, employers can hire and fire employees with or without cause, unless employees are under contract, if there is discrimination because of race, sex or creed, or the worker is a whistle-blower.”Nobody enjoys the prospect of being sued,” Ryerson said.City officials and attorneys for Calvano will have a telephone conference and will schedule the next session of the trial, with attorney Gary Doehling representing both the city and its insurance company.”Clearly the city was anxious to ask her why she Tasered an elderly woman,” Worcester said. Charles Agar’s e-mail address is email@example.com.