Public deserves to know about errant officer
September 22, 2005
The Carbondale Police Department and town government need to let the public know what exactly happened in November 1995, when officer Jose Munoz roughed up a member of the public. Munoz, a longtime member of the force, has been at the center a public relations fiasco following an August 2004 incident in which he used a Taser six times on a local he had pulled over for failing to stop at a stop sign. Police and the town prosecutor charged Steve Horn with resisting arrest and impeding an officer, but a jury found that Horn’s only violation was running the stop sign.When the Valley Journal newspaper sought to review the 1995 incident, the town and the police department dug in their heels. The Valley Journal sued, claiming that the investigation of Munoz’s conduct should be open to the public. The case is pending in 9th District Court.It’s unfortunate that the town government is working so hard to keep the Munoz file from public view. Munoz remains on the police force, and has now twice been involved in incidents that involved questionable judgment and use of force. In the 1995 incident, we know only that the original complaint of “excessive force” was found to be substantiated, and that Munoz was disciplined.Perhaps this constitutes a pattern of behavior, perhaps not. It’s hard to know without seeing the facts in both cases. The residents of Carbondale are paying Munoz’s salary and deserve to know.Town leaders should also recognize that many residents already don’t trust their police department. Suppressing information is no way to improve the situation. The town should take the high road in this case and let the story be told.The point of this editorial is not to beat up on Munoz, the Carbondale Police Department, or police in general. This concerns the basic social contract between police and the public.So that police may serve and protect us, we grant them power and authority to question us, search us, detain us, arrest us and even incarcerate us if we break the law. The public places a great deal of trust in law enforcement – would you pull over on the highway and roll down your window for just anyone? – and most officers earn that trust, day in and day out.On the other hand, when the public has reason to believe that a police officer has abused that trust, then the public deserves a full accounting.The Aspen Times and the Valley Journal are “sister papers,” owned by the same company. But that has nothing to do with our feelings on this issue.This is about a cop who, at least once and perhaps twice, has used excessive force on a citizen. He should be publicly accountable, and the local newspaper is the venue for the story.