DA: Denver PD 'careless' in responding to union's open records request, but no charges filed

Posted at 3:20 PM, May 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-26 01:24:25-04

DENVER – Denver District Attorney Beth McCann won’t file charges against the Denver Police Department’s chief or deputy chief after the department allegedly violated the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) when it initially kept secret a letter from the former district attorney concerning a controversial arrest last year.

McCann’s decision comes after a months-long investigation by Denver7 Investigates into the letter, which was obtained by the investigative team in January.

In the letter, then-District Attorney Mitch Morrissey wrote to Police Chief Robert White about his concerns over an investigation into an alleged rape committed by a DPD officer and another woman who were arrested but never charged. 

In the letter, Morrissey took issue with DPD Deputy Chief Matthew Murray’s discretion and actions during the investigation, particularly with Murray’s decision to “rush to judgment” in arresting the people involved in the case, and bypassing what Morrissey says were long-engrained rules about consulting with the district attorney’s office about “serious investigations.”

Though White responded with a two-sentence letter to Morrissey in June 2016—a month after Morrissey originally sent the letter.

The Denver Police Department’s rank-and-file union, the Denver Police Protective Association (DPPA) had made formal CORA requests to DPD on December 28 of last year and Jan. 3 of this year for Morrissey’s letter and White’s response, but didn’t receive Morrissey’s letter to the department until Jan. 30—more than a month after the original request, days after Denver7 asked police about the letters and the records denials.

By then, DPPA had already received both Morrissey and White’s letters from the district attorney’s office three weeks earlier via a separate CORA request.

“They lied and said that the letter didn't exist, that there were no records responsive to our request,” union president Nick Rogers told Denver7 Investigates in January. “It was nothing but an out-and-out lie.”

In March, McCann’s office opened an investigation as to whether DPD violated CORA laws, and Denver’s Department of Public Safety opened an independent investigation into both the original case and the open records spat.

Now that the district attorney's decision has been made, the city's investigation will continue.

“We have engaged a third party to handle the administrative investigation into this matter,” said Denver Department of Public Safety Communications Director Daelene Mix. “Now that the District Attorney’s office has concluded its work, we will advance the findings to the third party and the administrative investigation will commence.”

First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg said DPD’s open records denials raised “significant suspicion” when he talked to Denver7 Investigates about the case in March.

“It raises significant suspicion that they were unable to find a letter until you told them you had a copy of it,” Zansberg told Denver7’s chief investigative reporter Tony Kovaleski.

But McCann said Thursday that there was not “sufficient evidence…to find a knowing and willful violation of CORA beyond a reasonable doubt.”

She did not fully exonerate White and Murray’s handling of the records, however, despite saying no one will face charges.

“The CORA requests in question were handled carelessly by DPD, particularly by Chief White and Deputy Chief Murray,” McCann said. “The public has the right to expect a quick and thoughtful response to CORA requests by city officials, particularly by its police leadership.”

She also urged the Denver Department of Safety and DPD to “examine and improve” its process for responding to CORA requests.

“These requests provide the public with important access to government documents. Immediate and thorough responses are critical to provide transparency and accountability in government operations,” McCann said.