Denver DA defends decision to decline criminal charges against DPD chief, deputy chief

McCann gives exclusive interview to Denver7
Posted at 8:14 PM, Jun 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-13 01:48:53-04

DENVER -- Denver District Attorney Beth McCann is defending her decision to decline criminal charges for the city’s police chief and deputy chief in the face of criticism from her predecessor and the police union.

In May, McCann announced she would not bring misdemeanor charges against DPD Chief Robert White or Deputy Chief Matt Murray after an investigation into alleged violations of the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA). After declining multiple requests for interviews about the decision, McCann agreed to sit down with Denver7 Investigates to answer questions.

"The law requires a knowing and willful violation," McCann said. "I evaluated the evidence that we that we had developed in the investigation, and it was my conclusion that I did not have adequate facts to be able to prove criminal intent in the case."

The police union asked McCann's office to investigate after DPD twice failed to produce a requested letter written by the former DA Mitch Morrissey to Chief White last year, criticizing Murray's handling of a sexual assault investigation. The department only turned over the letter to the union after Denver7 Investigates asked officials about the situation – about a month after the union initially requested it.

McCann said Murray and White handled the records request carelessly but she could not prove it rose to the level of a criminal violation. 

Morrissey, who left office due to term limits in January, is among those questioning McCann's decision.

"As somebody who did this for 33 years, I would have brought charges against Matt Murray and would have seriously considered charges against Chief White," Morrissey said. "I'm saying you could have proved this case beyond a reasonable doubt."

McCann said she expects to be criticized for the decisions she makes.

"People are going to disagree with many decisions I make," she told Denver7. "That's what I do. That's my job, and that's what I was elected to do, and and that's what I'll continue to do." 

The district attorney’s investigative file shows the police department’s records administrator described the actions of DPD’s top cops as “deception.” She also told the DA’s investigators she watched as the chief and deputy chief discussed how to spin media coverage about why they initially failed to turn over the letter.

Morrissey said he believes, after reviewing the case file, that the DA’s lead investigator on the case would have recommended charges.

“I have no doubt in my mind he made a referral on this case to file charges, not because I talked to him, but I know him, I know the kind of prosecutor he is. The way he would have analyzed this, he would have looked at these lies, and he would have said, ‘I can prove this,’” Morrissey said.

McCann would not answer whether her top investigator on the case recommended charges or not, but acknowledged not everyone in her office agreed on how to proceed.

"In this particular case, you may have realized that it took me quite a while to make the decision because I wanted to be very careful about what I did. I wanted to make sure I understood the law and that I understood the facts before I made the decision," McCann said. "I consulted with more than one chief deputy DA regarding this case and opinions were differing." 

Chief investigate reporter Tony Kovaleski asked McCann if she followed the recommendation of her chief deputy and she said, " I am the district attorney and I am the person responsible for the decision and I am the one who made the decision."

When Kovaleski followed up by asking specifically if her chief deputy district attorney recommended criminal charges against Denver's two highest ranking cops, McCann answered: "I don't believe it's appropriate for me to talk about what individual district attorneys or senior deputy district attorneys are saying to me when I am making these decisions. " 

Now that the criminal case has concluded, a third-party investigation commissioned by the city is underway to determine whether any discipline is warranted. The police union is hoping that investigation will turn out differently.

“They need to come back with a finding … that both Chief White and Deputy Chief Murray lied. Then they should receive the same punishment that every officer before them got, which is termination,” union president Nick Rogers said.

In an interview with Denver7 Investigates in January, Murray denied any wrongdoing in either the sexual assault investigation or the records denials. DPD has declined to comment on the case further citing the ongoing investigation.