District attorney investigating whether Denver police violated open records law

Police union initiated complaint
Posted at 11:10 AM, Mar 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-03 13:11:57-05

DENVER -- Denver District Attorney Beth McCann has opened an investigation into an allegation the Denver Police Department violated Colorado's open records law by withholding a letter that criticized the department -- a letter first made public by Denver7 Investigates

The letter, written in May 2016 by McCann's predecessor, former District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, to Denver Police Chief Robert White, sharply criticized the department's actions in an arresting a woman Morrissey described as innocent. Chief White sent a brief letter in response.

The Denver Police Protective Association, the city's police union, filed two open records request with Denver police in December for any correspondence between Morrissey and White about the case. Each time, police responded without turning over Morrissey's letter or White's response or disclosing the existence of either letter. The union said it then filed the same request with Morrissey's office and received both letters in response.

More than a month after the police department failed to turn over the documents in response to the union's requests, Denver7 Investigates obtained the letters and reached out to DPD to ask about the situation. Within days, the department's records administrator emailed Morrissey's letter and White's response to the union, writing, "It has come to my attention that there are additional records responsive to your request below."

DPD deputy chief Matthew Murray explained the chief's secretary located the letters on further inspection. 

"The response was based on people who didn't have anything, or didn't think they had anything, so they were answering honestly,” Murray told Denver7 Investigates. “They didn't realize there was a copy of the letter on the secretary's computer.”

The police union was not satisfied with that explanation and asked the DA's office to investigate.

“This was a coordinated effort to try to cover up this letter,” union president Nick Rogers told Denver7 Investigates.

The DA's spokesperson, Ken Lane, said Friday the office would be opening an investigation.

“Based upon a request made last week by the DPPA to one of the chief deputies in the office, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann has determined that communication to be a sufficient formal request to the District Attorney for a CORA violations investigation.  The DPPA has been advised that an investigation will be initiated,” Lane wrote in a statement.

The DA's move marks the second investigation opened this week into the situation. On Thursday, the city's Department of Public Safety announced an investigation into the circumstances leading to the arrests and the open records issues.

"As Executive Director of Safety, it is my duty to provide civilian oversight to the Denver Police Department. As such, I have decided to initiate an outside, third party investigation into this matter to ensure transparency and accountability. The Office of the Independent Monitor will monitor the third party investigation," Executive Director of Safety Stephanie Y. O'Malley said in a statement.