Monday, October 19, 2015

CSPD: IA file's release is "contrary to the public interest"

Posted By on Mon, Oct 19, 2015 at 1:30 PM

click to enlarge Alexis Acker, while cuffed, was thrown to the ground. Now the cops won't release the internal affairs file of the officer responsible, Tyler Walker. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Alexis Acker, while cuffed, was thrown to the ground. Now the cops won't release the internal affairs file of the officer responsible, Tyler Walker.
Officials continue to refuse to release the internal affairs file of Officer Tyler Walker because it's "contrary to the public interest."

If that sounds familiar, it should. We reported last month that our previous efforts to shake loose the report were unsuccessful.

But when the Colorado Springs Police Department earlier this month forked over the IA file for officers involved in the March arrest of Ryan and Benjamin Brown, we figured, hey, let's try again.

About a week after releasing the Brown file, Police Chief Pete Carey issued this statement:
Prior to any findings being made on an internal investigation the complaint is thoroughly investigated. I thank the public for their patience in this process. While we would like to have released this information earlier there is a balance that must take into account the on-going criminal investigation as well as preserving the rights of complainants and all parties involved in the investigative process.

Traffic stops offer many different perspectives from that of police officers to the drivers and passengers and bystanders or witnesses standpoint. This investigation included interviews with independent witnesses. This dichotomy of views can sometimes cause conflicts in expectations and outcomes.

I ask the public to read the investigation in its entirety in order to make an informed decision. The process of releasing an internal investigation is not something that I take lightly. There were honest comments, statements and opinions made from all parties. Stylistic difference in delivery of police services occur with each individual officer and every situation they encounter. These differences are not necessarily policy violations.
Also last week, the CSPD responded to our latest request for the Walker file. Walker, as you might recall, slammed Alexis Acker, who was handcuffed behind her back, to the floor in Memorial Hospital's emergency room, which was caught on video. 

As we've previously reported, Walker was disciplined but the CSPD won't say how. He remains on the force.

On September 3, 2015, the Colorado Springs Police Department ("CSPD") denied your request for the Internal Affairs records relating to an incident involving Officer Tyler Walker ("IA records") that occurred in 2013. The records you have requested are defined criminal justice records under the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act ("CCJRA") in C.R.S. § 24-72-302(4). Please note that since your request is for records other than records of "official action" as defined in C.R.S. § 24-72-302(7), the release of the requested records is within the discretion of the official custodian per C.R.S. § 24-72-304(1) subject to the statutory requirements contained within the CCJRA as well as the balancing requirements prescribed by the Colorado Supreme Court in Harris v. Denver Post 123 P.3d 1166, 1175 (Colo.2005) and other Colorado case law.

The CSPD record's custodian reviewed your request for IA records and carefully considered and weighed the public's interests in allowing inspection of the IA records against the following factors:

1. the ongoing civil litigation between Alexis Acker and the City of Colorado Springs in the United States Federal District Court and the effect upon the civil case if the requested IA records are released to the public who would constitute the potential jury pool;
2. CSPD's and Officer Walker's ability to seek a protective order from the U.S. District Court regarding the IA records which may be released in discovery during the civil case;
3. CSPD's ability to conduct future IA investigations in which release of IA files would subject parties to the investigation and potential witnesses to harassment, intimidation and fear of public ridicule if their names and the content of their statements were revealed to the public;
4. the effect that public disclosure of IA investigative case files could compromise CSPD's organizational mission to conduct thorough IA investigations and, if necessary, appropriately discipline its officers;
5. the effect on CSPD employee morale and performance would be negatively affected by such public disclosures of materials contained in the IA investigative case file;
6. the privacy interests of Officer Walker regarding the employee discipline imposed as a result of the IA investigation; and
7. CSPD's interest in keeping historical confidential files, which include IA investigative files, confidential.

During the balancing test, the custodian recognized and acknowledged the high level public interest in the CSPD IA investigation regarding Officer Walker. The custodian also took into account the current nationwide public focus on the conduct of law enforcement officers.

After balancing the factors supporting and opposing disclosure of the documents the custodian determined that release of the records was contrary to the public interest. In the custodian's analysis factors 1 and 2 weighed most heavily against the release of the IA investigative file during the pendency of civil litigation involving Ms. Acker, CSPD, and Officer Walker, and in conjunction with factors 3 through 7 outweigh the interest the public has in viewing the records. It is important to note that at the conclusion of the civil case factors 1 and 2 will no longer applicable to the custodian's analysis and at such time CSPD will reconsider release the of the IA records if a subsequent request is made. Additionally the custodian considered whether redactions could be made to the IA records so that portions of the records might be releasable; however the custodian concluded that the necessary redactions would so limit the releasable information to cause such information to be of very limited value to the public. 
We also sought the internal affairs file for Officer Nathan Jorstad, who shot a drunken man in the back without warning and later told investigators he shot him in the chest.

In response, the CSPD said, "This same test applies to the Jordstad case."

Whether either case gets a second look during the department's review of excessive use of force isn't clear, because officials are revealing very little about that review, as we reported last week.

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