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SPECIAL REPORT: Matters of Internal Affairs at CSPD

By: LANCE BENZEL
June 12, 2009
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One police officer overslept and missed court. He never testified, and a child abuse suspect went free.

Another drew his pistol and fired at a hawk flying near the Sand Creek police station after a bird attacked his supervisor.

A third lashed out at a Hispanic driver after they nearly collided in the street. In a tantrum broadcast over a police radio channel, he threatened to throw the man's keys into a field unless he "learn(ed) to speak English quickly."

These are a few cases of misconduct that Colorado Springs police have kept confidential over the past two years, sealed under a long-standing policy that a police officer's mistakes are nobody else's business.


Read about Denver's policy here

In late May, seven months after The Gazette submitted a Colorado Open Records Act request for certain Internal Affairs case summaries, police agreed to revise their policy and make some of the documents available. They released 20 of the 66 summaries requested by the newspaper.

The reports - from 2007 and most of 2008 - shed light on some of the most serious transgressions by officers. All of them resulted in punishment. Dozens of other complaints were dismissed. The Gazette attempted to reach all of those disciplined for comment, but none returned telephone calls.

The violations police disclosed last month include sexual harassment; shouting profanity at school children; pushing into a home without a warrant; an improper search; and a procedural slip-up that let a wounded drug suspect walk out of a hospital a free man.

Others run the gamut from outright laziness and dereliction of duty to omissions that officers blamed on being overworked or poorly trained.

None of the reports hints at criminal activity or corruption, and police say their figures show that only a tiny percentage of police calls ever lead to complaints - at a rate of 1.3 complaints per 1,000 calls.

"I'm very proud that this department doesn't have any systemic problems. When we do have a problem with an officer, it's dealt with," said Lt. Kirk Wilson, a supervisor in the Internal Affairs unit.

The department moves swiftly to penalize bad behavior and get additional training for officers who need it, he said.

Police declined to say how they disciplined the employees named in the reports, contending that state law prohibits the release of that information. Sanctions range from verbal counseling to unpaid suspension and termination.

The worst violations raise troubling questions about how an outcome might have been different if the proper procedures had been followed.

In one such case, Jebediah Frankland, a call-taker in the dispatch center, reportedly hung up on a 911 caller without coaching him through CPR when the man got home Sept. 30, 2008, and found that his ailing wife wasn't breathing and had no pulse.

The reports do not make clear whether CPR could have revived the woman, who was pronounced dead, but police determined that Frankland's oversight was a critical breach of emergency protocol.

The investigation also found that Frankland had earlier ignored several 911 calls while trading text messages with a friend, in what a colleague described as a habit, the documents show.

Frankland, who could not be reached for comment, is no longer employed at the dispatch center. Police would not say if he was fired.

In another case, Officer Eric Reed overslept the morning he was expected to testify at a Feb. 28, 2008, trial for a man accused of domestic violence and child abuse.

In the Internal Affairs case summary, his supervisor Lt. Scott Whittington wrote that "some charges were dropped due to his absence and ultimately the jury found the defendant not guilty."

Whittington conceded the outcome could have been the same even if Reed, a nine-year veteran, had testified.

The documents show that three officers were disciplined for serious offenses twice each during the 22-month period covered by The Gazette's CORA request. They are officers Dan Mork, Kirk Montgomery and Ryan Mooney. Mooney, a nine-year veteran, was at the center of back-to-back investigations in 2007.

Repeat offenses are taken into consideration for disciplinary action and can affect promotions and job assignments, police said.

In the past several years, police have announced a few instances of misconduct, usually when an officer broke laws or when the Police Department believed its image could be tarnished if the information leaked through other channels.

In one voluntary disclosure, police approached media outlets last year to report that two motorcycle officers had misrepresented the number of tickets they wrote.

But until a CORA was filed by The Gazette and others, police declined to comment on the probable motive: meeting the department's quota that each traffic cop must ticket 22 moving violations a day.

The officers were Daniel Myers and Elvin Hill. Both were allowed to retire before the investigation was complete.

Other reports were made public on a case-by-case basis, but police fought The Gazette's request to freely review disciplinary records, making it difficult to learn about misconduct that hadn't otherwise come to light.

The following details emerged in the newly released reports:

• Officer Gary Partnow, a school resource officer, was faulted in 2008 for allegations that he sexually harassed three women at his middle school. They claim he made "inappropriate comments" about their appearance and asked one woman about her sex life. The principal asked to have him moved. Partnow, a 10-year veteran, denied making any overtures.

• Officer Christopher Darrow pulled over a Hispanic man after their cars nearly collided on Jan. 1, 2008. Darrow, a four-year-veteran, threatened to throw the man's keys into a field unless he "learn(ed) to speak English quickly."

Darrow claimed he heard the man speaking in English on a cell phone as he approached the car and grew angry when the man told him he only spoke Spanish. The heated exchange was broadcast over Darrow's police radio.

Before leaving, Darrow placed the car keys behind the vehicle's rear tire and warned the man to wait 10 minutes before getting back on the road, another breach of conduct. He never cited the driver.

• Officer Dan Mork was disciplined after a bizarre episode on Aug. 7, 2008, in which a hawk swooped down and attacked a sergeant outside the Sand Creek substation, bloodying his forehead.

After the attack, Mork walked toward a hawk feeding on carrion. He claimed that as he approached, a different hawk began diving in his direction, prompting him to draw his pistol and fire in self-defense.

Police dismissed "rumors" that Mork was seeking to avenge the attack on his colleague but concluded that he placed himself in danger by approaching a bird that was feeding.

The hawk flew away after the shot was fired.

In a separate complaint, the three-year veteran was disciplined in 2007for an improper search of a residence. Police said they collected drugs that he found, but did not pursue arrests.

• Officer Kirk Montgomery botched a "prisoner transport" July 23, 2008, when he delivered a felony drug suspect for medical treatment and then left him unsupervised at the hospital.

Marlow Cook, who had been arrested on a warrant in a drug case, was supposed to be taken to the El Paso County jail after doctors examined a wound he had failed to keep clean. Instead, Cook walked out of the hospital a free man. Court records show he wasn't re-arrested until mid-August.

Under police policy, an officer must remain at a hospital unless a felony suspect is either cleared for release by doctors or admitted overnight. If the suspect is admitted, then a police officer must request a "medical hold" directing hospital officials to notify police before the suspect is released.

Montgomery said he was confused by a supervisor's instructions and did neither. The investigation concluded that he was notified by police dispatch on the day of the error but never reported it to anyone.

Montgomery, a three-year veteran, was also disciplined in 2007 for taking more than six weeks to complete a report requested by the District Attorney's office as part of an ongoing prosecution. He told the paralegal requesting the document that he was too busy to get it done any sooner.

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Contact the writer at 636-0366


CASE SUMMARIES

Officer John Havener

Havener was disciplined for failing to take action when he was summoned to a woman's home on Feb. 25, 2007, after she accused her boyfriend of domestic abuse, documents show.

When the officer arrived, he ended up getting involved in a confrontation with the woman's father in which he threatened to use his Taser. Police defended Havener's handling of that quarrel, but faulted the officer for leaving the home without taking a report to document the woman's allegations.

"We should have offered her more help," Lt. Kirk Wilson of Internal Affairs said. "You can't just leave without taking the proper steps."


Sgt. Otto Knolhoff

On March 17, 2007 - St. Patrick's Day - Knolhoff and three officers were on a special detail probing a rash of graffiti in a police sergeant's neighborhood.

The night was "very quiet," so Knolhoff let his officers off 4½ hours early - then joined them for a celebration at one of their homes. Soon, Knolhoff's district was flooded with calls, and the six other officers who were left to cover the shift ended up working overtime, some as many as three hours.


Officer John Borini

Borini was disciplined for failing to get out of his squad car to investigate when a Colorado Springs Utilities worker reported that a vandal fired an air pistol at him as he worked in the back of a bucket truck, documents show.

Borini listened to the man's story from his driver's seat but said he elected not to file a report in the April 17, 2007, incident because nobody was hit, nothing was damaged and nobody saw the shooting. He left his name and badge number with the victim and told him to call back if he had any further information.


Officer Ryan Mooney

The first of two complaints against Mooney in 2007 involved a confrontation between the officer and a woman at her apartment door on Aug. 28. She claimed she was trying to prevent the officer from entering illegally; Mooney said he was following her while she was heading to retreive her ID.

According to Wilson, police determined that the conflict could have been avoided if Mooney had followed procedure and informed her that she was being detained before she reached her door.

The second offense happened May 19 when Mooney assured a man that he wasn't gay before searching his waistband. Mooney acknowledged the exchange but denied the man's claim that he used the word "faggot."


Officer Dan McCormack

McCormack was disciplined for an incident Dec. 18, 2007 at a classroom in which he reportedly yelled at a disruptive student, "Get your frickin' ass out of the class!" The student claimed he used the profanity, but McCormack and several teachers disputed the student's account.

McCormack ended up apologizing to the student and her aunt.


Manny Salazar, a dispatcher

Salazar left his dispatch desk unattended twice during an Aug. 22, 2008 shift, once to go to the bathroom and once to get coffee.

A colleague had to leave his own station and go to Salazar's to send a fire call to first-responders during one of those periods, the document said. A supervisor told the internal affairs investigator that relief was available for Salazar if he needed a break but that he never asked for one.


Officer Dedra Phillips and Sgt. Dennis Dougan

Phillips was faulted for a March 17, 2008 call in which Colleen Dwyer reported that her estranged husband threatened her, saying "I hope you are ready to take a bullet." Phillips concluded the phrase could have been a figure of speech and opted not to pursue an arrest.

Two days later, the man who made the threat, Russell Dwyer, fatally shot the woman.

The Gazette chronicled the investigation after the slaying.

Police determined that both Phillips and her supervisor, Dougan, "could have done better" in responding to the call but declined to specify what the shortcomings were. The internal affairs investigation noted that Phillips never attempted to contact Russell Dwyer.


Officer Mark Watson

Watson was disciplined for an Aug. 1, 2008 call in which a woman reported that her husband - a Colorado Springs Fire Department employee - stormed out of the house with a gun and threatened to harm her if she was home when he returned.

Watson notified the Fire Department and sent an alert about the man to fellow officers but he never issued a warrant for the man's arrest. Police say he was preoccupied with the prospect for a suicide and got "distracted" from the domestic violence call.


Officer Christopher Pryor

Pryor ran a red light and was involved in an on-duty crash Aug. 2, 2008. Police said he was en route to another call, focusing on his police computer and not paying attention to the road.

Two people in the oncoming car that Pryor hit ended up going to the hospital - a man with back and neck pain, and a woman with head and arm pain.


Officer Mark Riley

On April 12, 2008, a woman called in to report that she saw an officer and a woman having sex in a patrol car in a parking lot.

Riley denied having sex but acknowledged that a woman sat on his knee as he was in the patrol car and that they hugged and kissed goodbye. He said the contact lasted three minutes.

 

 

 

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