Probe of police chief getting legal
October 26, 2007
ASPEN Key players connected to the investigation into Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson are loading their legal guns. Ryerson, who was placed on administrative leave three weeks ago amid sexual harassment allegations, recently retained a team of attorneys. Neil Karbank, a corporate attorney and a friend of Ryersons, confirmed that he and other counsel are representing him. Karbank declined to comment on the investigation or identify the law firm involved.However, a source close to the investigation said the firm representing Ryerson is Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber & Schreck, which specializes in employment issues. The national firm has an office in Glenwood Springs. Calls went unreturned Thursday.The Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency (CIRSA) the city of Aspens insurance and risk-management carrier thats heading the investigation has contracted with Light, Harrington & Dawes, a Denver-based firm that specializes in research, among other areas. And Timothy Leary, a retired Denver police officer, is working for that firm as the lead investigator in Aspen, sources said. Leary, a private investigator, has interviewed several local law enforcement officers as part of the investigation, including a former APD officer who appears to be central to the allegations. Renee Rayton, who left the APD in May and is now a deputy with the Pitkin County Sheriffs Office, was one of the first officers to be interviewed. She reportedly has an attorney representing her, as well, according to a source who requested anonymity.Melinda Calvano, a former APD officer who is suing the city for wrongful termination, wonders why she, as an ex-employee critical of city management, hasnt been contacted as part of the investigation.She is chagrined that no one has talked to her, said her attorney, Mark Colin of Denver.Calvanos suit claims she was wrongfully fired in July 2006 because of her gender and in retaliation for complaining about harassment on the job. Aspen police said her firing was the result of violating policy because she used a Taser gun on a homeless woman, whom Calvano suspected of stealing a sweater from The Thrift Stores drop box and acted aggressively toward her when confronted.If Leary went to former APD customer service officer Michelle White for an interview, he would learn another side of Ryerson, who has great respect by many community members, as well as by former employees.I was totally appalled when I read it, it made me sick, she said. I know him too well. It didnt happen.Ryerson, who says hes innocent, has been interviewed. Sources say he had an ultimatum of either submitting to an interview or risk losing his job for interfering with an investigation.Sources say the investigation could be complete within days. Its then expected that CIRSA will submit a report with findings that either exonerate Ryerson or confirm the allegations.City Manager Steve Barwick, who is out of town this week, wont comment on the matter, saying its a personnel issue. Other city officials remain tight-lipped, or are left in the dark. It was noticed months ago by city department heads that a common theme had surfaced in exit interviews from former APD employees, who were critical of Ryersons management style. Some levied sexual harassment allegations and others witnessed inappropriate behavior, sources said.Ryerson issued a statement a week after the investigation became public, saying 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.Clearly the situation is harmful to Ryersons reputation and his to family regardless of whether the allegations are true or not. That likely will be his legal claim if the investigation leads to termination based on CIRSAs findings. But he might not have a case if the city has probable cause to terminate him, according to Glenwood Springs-based civil rights attorney Sandy Karp.He doesnt have a whole lot of personal claims because of governmental immunity, Karp said. He doesnt have a whole lot of rights after the fact.However, if Ryerson is cleared of any misconduct its likely he could successfully argue a civil rights violation, Karp said.If it turns out that there was nothing to this, he may well have a case, Karp said. Either way, sources say its unlikely Ryerson will come back as police chief.Then the matter will likely be in the hands of the lawyers.Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.