For the second time in three years, the City of Colorado Springs is spending taxpayer money to resolve a federal lawsuit against police officer Dale Huston.
On Jan. 22, the city agreed to pay $5,000 to settle a civil-rights lawsuit against Huston by area resident Roman Janowiak.
Janowiak pleaded guilty to possessing marijuana after being pulled over and searched by Huston in May of 2000. However, he sued Huston in May of 2002, claiming Huston had fabricated evidence to justify the traffic stop.
Neither Huston nor Janowiak's attorney responded to requests for comment as of press time. Shane White, an attorney for the city, said the decision to settle was based on a "cost-benefit analysis."
In July of 2001, the city paid $35,000 to settle a lawsuit by Charles H. Gibbs, who sued Huston following a drug arrest the year before. Gibbs claimed Huston had lied on an affidavit to secure a no-knock warrant on Gibbs' residence. Police reportedly found methamphetamine during the search, but a District Court judge threw out the charges against Gibbs due to Huston's conduct.
Huston has been slapped with yet another lawsuit, this time in the 4th Judicial District Court, in which he's accused of having assaulted a 15-year-old male patient at the Cedar Springs mental-health institution. The alleged victim's father, Jack Roberts, claims Huston slammed the boy's head against a wall and kicked him in the face during an arrest at the institution in July of 2002.
Despite his track record at the Colorado Springs Police Department, Huston has consistently received "effective" ratings on his performance evaluations. His latest evaluation, for 2003, is currently being processed.
-- Terje Langeland
The 2004 state legislative session is turning into a bloodbath for Rep. Mike Merrifield.
Republicans on Tuesday killed the third of five bills introduced by the lawmaker from Manitou Springs, the only Democrat among El Paso County's 13-member legislative delegation.
On a party-line vote, the Republican majority on the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted 5-4 against Merrifield's House Bill 1146, which would have restricted state lawmakers' ability to receive gifts and money from special interests.
Specifically, the bill would have barred sitting lawmakers from being paid to lobby against state ballot measures. It would also have prohibited them from accepting gifts worth more than $50 from lobbyists.
Merrifield said the bill was inspired by his discovery that a fellow El Paso County legislator, Rep. Bill Cadman, had received $25,000 last year to lobby local governments against a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed dog tracks in Colorado to operate slot machines. Merrifield also opposed the amendment but said Cadman, as a lawmaker, shouldn't have been paid to oppose it.
Cadman, who serves on the committee that heard Merrifield's bill, abstained from voting on it. He did not respond to requests for comment. Two other Republican legislators from the Springs, Dave Schultheis and Bill Sinclair, voted against the bill.
Merrifield's first two bills were also defeated by Republicans. The first, an attempt to increase dog owners' liability in dog-bite cases, died in committee on Jan. 21. Last week, Republicans killed Merrifield's second proposed law, which would have decreased the "vendor's fee," a percentage of the state sales tax that merchants are allowed to keep as compensation for collecting the tax. Merrifield wanted to use the windfall for statewide tourism promotion.
Merrifield has said he suspects Republicans of deliberately burying his legislation for partisan reasons. The GOP has openly declared it a top priority to stop Merrifield from being re-elected this fall, though no Republican challenger has stepped forward. House Majority Leader Keith King, a Colorado Springs Republican, reportedly told Merrifield that none of his bills would pass this year. King has since said he was joking.
-- Terje Langeland
A former El Paso County employee who was suspected of illegally passing along official information for profit has been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.
Investigators with the 4th Judicial District district attorney's office say they've found no evidence to support a criminal case against Dorenda Willmore, who worked as a foreclosure specialist in the El Paso County public trustee's office.
"We determined that criminal charges are not appropriate in this instance," said David Zook, a deputy district attorney who heads the Economic Crime Division.
An investigation was opened against Willmore last October, and she was placed on administrative leave. According to District Attorney Jeanne Smith, Willmore was suspected of illegally disclosing information about housing foreclosures to private investors before the information was released to the general public.
But Zook said the investigation revealed that the information had in fact been made public before Willmore passed it on. Her worst offense may have been to violate unwritten office rules, Zook said.
Willmore signed a settlement agreement with the county on Dec. 12, agreeing to resign while receiving pay through December plus five months of healthcare benefits. Under the agreement, Willmore and county administrators agreed not to discuss the case or the settlement publicly.
Willmore declined a request for comment through her attorney.
-- Terje Langeland