Denver police chief won't be disciplined by mayor after pair of internal investigations

Posted at 12:54 PM, Apr 09, 2018

DENVER -- Mayor Michael Hancock announced Monday that Police Chief Robert White will not be disciplined after a pair of separate administrative reviews. The reviews involved examining the chief’s role in a car crash and a long-running controversyinvolving public records stemming from a dispute with the former district attorney.

In a lengthy written announcement, Mayor Hancock said Chief White “should have exercised more professionalism and clarity in his conduct” in each of the two separate incidents, but added White “did not violate department policies.”

“I have spoken with Chief White to make it abundantly clear that, as a trusted leader of this community, he must hold himself to the highest standard,” Mayor Hancock said in a statement. “I truly believe that Denver has an honorable and dedicated Police Chief in Robert White. He values accountability, he prioritizes doing the right thing and he cares deeply about the police department and people of Denver.”

Chief White responded to the findings with a written statement: 

My integrity and the trust the community places in me as its chief means everything and both have been called into question as I awaited resolution of these cases. Although I was confident the facts would ultimately support no wrong-doing on my part, stories void of these important facts have impugned my reputation for more than a year. It has been a difficult time for the members of the Denver Police Department, my family, and quite frankly, for me personally. While I recognize I could have handled certain aspects of each case differently, I look forward to putting these incidents behind me and the department as we continue to focus on the important work of protecting and serving the community. 

Department’s “poor communication” blamed for public records mistake

The first administrative review of Chief White involved a long-running controversy that began in the summer of 2016 when a (now-former) Denver police officer was accused of sexual assault.

The officer and another woman were arrested by the Denver Police Department, then released after the District Attorney Mitch Morrissey declined to press charges.

Morrissey then sent a letter to White harshly criticizing Deputy Chief Matt Murray’s handling of the investigation. White responded with his own letter saying he would look into the matter.

Months later, the Denver Police Protective Association union sent two public records requests to DPD seeking correspondence between White and Morrissey about the sexual assault case. Each time, DPD’s records coordinator responded without producing the letters in question. 

DPD did not produce the letters for the union until after Denver7 Investigates obtained the letters and asked the department why it had denied repeated requests for them.  

The mayor’s review found that although White received emails indicating the union had requested his correspondence with Morrissey, it is unclear whether or not he saw them, as he typically has no involvement in records requests.“It does not appear that Chief White knowingly or intentionally withheld documents from the public,” Hancock said in Monday’s statement. “However, poor communication and unwritten, internal practices allowed the request to be responded to inaccurately. That should not have happened as we value being open and transparent.”

Hancock also cleared White of any policy violations for his decision not to pursue an investigation into Morrissey’s complaint about Murray’s handling of the sexual assault allegations. 

“Pursuant to the Operations Manual, the Chief of Police has the authority not to pursue a complaint. He did not pursue the matter because he didn’t consider it a complaint of substance,” the review found.

The city’s separate review of Murray’s actions in the case is ongoing. 

Nick Rogers, president of the Denver Police Protective Association, blasted Hancock's decision in a statement.

"As the person who filed the open records request complaint and knowing ALL the facts of that complaint, we summarily reject this absurd decision. Not only were both Chief Robert White and Deputy Chief Matt Murray misleading during the investigation, but they conspired to withhold a letter written by District Attorney Mitch Morrissey that clearly called into question Deputy Chief Murray’s decision-making abilities. The DPPA is now tasked with explaining to the other 1,500 honorable and honest Denver Police officers how they move forward," Rogers wrote.

In his announcement Monday, Hancock lamented the length of the administrative reviews into DPD’s two top officers stemming from the Morrissey letter -- an investigation first initiated more than a year ago. 

“The amount of time it has taken to get to this point in the matter is unacceptable and the process needs to be evaluated and streamlined to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” the mayor wrote in his statement.

Chief also cleared after possible ‘pursuit’ following hit-and-run crash

The second administrative review involved a hit-and-run accident in which Chief White was a victim while off-duty in his department vehicle September of 2017.

White said he made a U-turn and drove after the hit-and-run driver to try to get his license plate. The hit-and-run driver later crashed into another vehicle. 

White made statements after the crash that he “chased” the hit-and-run driver, but the mayor’s administrative review found “those statements appear to be a semantic use of the term and not a literal definition of his actions, or the same use of ‘pursuit’ as defined in department policy.” 

The review found that White likely did not activate his lights and sirens and likely was not able to turn around quickly enough for the other driver to be aware White was following him. 

“It cannot be said that the driver sped up or drove in a more dangerous manner due to a ‘pursuit,’” Hancock’s office wrote in its statement.

White later apologized for making a joke at the scene to Aurora police that sources told Denver7 Investigates may have disparaged his own department's response to the scene. 

“He did not choose his words wisely, but he didn’t violate any department policies. Further, I am disappointed that he made a joke about the police officers that was in poor taste. He was upfront about these comments to me and the entire department, and I don’t believe his intent was malicious,” Hancock wrote in a statement. 

The review also indicated White may have been disoriented after the crash.