Thursday, March 28, 2019

Police internal affairs transparency bill headed for governor's desk

Posted By on Thu, Mar 28, 2019 at 12:58 PM

click to enlarge Alexis Acker after being thrown to the floor face first. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Alexis Acker after being thrown to the floor face first.
In 2015, the Independent asked for the internal affairs file for Tyler Walker, a police officer accused of smashing 18-year-old Alexis Acker, handcuffed behind her back, to the floor in Memorial Hospital's emergency room.

The city paid $100,000 to settle a lawsuit with Acker.

But the Colorado Springs Police Department refused to release the IA file for Walker, who later left the department, saying disclosure would be contrary to the public interest.

Likewise, with one exception, the CSPD has denied the Indy's requests for IA files using that same reason.

Soon, that argument won't wash, if Gov. Jared Polis signs House Bill 1119, which will require law enforcement agencies to disclosure internal affairs files after the investigation is complete.

According to The Denver Post, the bill cleared its final legislative hurdle on March 27 and is on its way to Polis' desk. It's unclear whether Polis will sign the bill.

As reported by the Post, current law allows police agencies to disclose IA files only if the release would be in the public interest. If the requester disagrees, he or she must file a lawsuit.

From the Post:
Most agencies in the state deny the release of those records — other than the Denver Police Department, which has been releasing most internal affairs records for about 12 years — often citing their release as being “contrary to the public interest.”

According to the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, the bill, if passed into law, will bring Colorado in line with 14 other states.

The CFOIC, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, the Colorado Press Association, the Colorado Broadcasters Association, Common Cause of Colorado and the Independence Institute support the bill.

CFOIC reports that opponents of the bill include the Fraternal Order of Police of Colorado and the county sheriffs’ association, but taking a neutral position were the police chiefs’ association, district attorneys’ council and the Colorado Municipal League.

In an interview in February, Mayor John Suthers told the Indy, "Whatever the law is, I assure you, as long as I'm mayor of Colorado Springs, we will comply with it."

Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, sponsored the bill with Rep. James Coleman, D-Denver. Foote, a former prosecutor, noted that "transparency should be the default position," the CFOIC reported, and said the bill would help build trust between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.

The only internal affairs report released by the CSPD in recent memory dealt with Ryan and Jeremy Brown, brothers stopped by officers for no apparent reason. Ryan Brown made a video of the stop and, with the ACLU of Colorado, alleged he was stopped and held at gunpoint because he's black. The city later settled a lawsuit with Brown by paying $212,000

But the bill doesn't require agencies to release files of incidents that occurred before the effective date of the bill. So the Tyler Walker file and others that predate the bill will remain under wraps forever.
 

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