Colorado bill aims to protect whistleblowers who report police misconduct

Supporters say House Bill 24-1460 is long overdue and will help root out bad cops in Colorado. Law enforcement groups, however, oppose it, calling it irresponsible and unnecessary.
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Posted at 6:42 PM, Apr 22, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-22 20:43:56-04

EDGEWATER, Colo. — Lawmakers will hold a hearing Tuesday on a bill aimed at protecting whistleblowers who report police misconduct.

Supporters say House Bill 24-1460 is long overdue and will help root out bad cops in Colorado. Law enforcement groups, however, oppose it, calling it irresponsible and unnecessary.

From an early age, McKinzie Rees knew what she wanted to be.

“My grandpa was a police officer, and I just always wanted to be a police officer,” Rees said.

McKinzie Rees, a former police officer with the Edgewater Police Department, is pushing for the passage of a bill to protect those who report police misconduct.

Rees lived her dream for a few years. She started out with the Black Hawk Police Department and eventually found her way to the Edgewater Police Department.

"In the beginning, it wasn't so bad,” Rees said.

But things changed in 2019 after a Christmas party.

"I was sexually assaulted by one of my sergeants,” Rees said.

Rees said she and that sergeant, Nathan Geerdes, were in the back seat of an Uber heading to another gathering when the sexual assault occurred.

"I was, you know, trying to push him off and kind of like, you know, make it known that I didn't want any part of what he was doing,” said Rees.

Rees said Geerdes made her date sit in the front seat with the Uber driver while he sat in the backseat with her.

“I didn't want to cause a massive scene in the Uber with a driver that I don't know. And then my date sitting in the front seat was kind of in an awkward situation,” said Rees.

She said Geerdes sexually assaulted her a second time in the hallway of the restaurant they stopped at.

“I told my date, "Let's just eat our pizza and get out of here,"” Rees said.

She said she reported the incident to a colleague but heard nothing for almost a year.



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“I got pulled into a room with a couple of other members of the department and asked to tell them about what had happened at the Christmas party a year prior,” Rees said.

She later learned two members of the police department had approached the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

"They felt that the department wasn't handling it the way they should have handled it, that it was kind of kept hush-hush,” said Rees.

Geerdes was eventually indicted by a grand jury and pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual contact, official misconduct, and forgery. He was sentenced to four years probation and must register as a sex offender. He also can no longer work in law enforcement.

At Geerdes’ sentencing earlier this year, Rees said she learned she wasn't his only victim. She said another woman stepped forward and accused him of sexually assaulting her several years before.

"It was a surprise, but it wasn't a surprise because I felt what he did was very brazen and something that had been practiced almost,” said Rees.

Rees is now pushing for the passage of HB24-1460, which would require law enforcement to investigate misconduct allegations and save the documents related to the case for three years. Victims could sue agencies and peace officers that don’t investigate misconduct allegations. In addition, officers who do nothing could be charged with a misdemeanor.

Law-enforcement groups, including the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police and the County Sheriffs of Colorado, have come out against the bill, calling it irresponsible and punitive.

“Together we stand united against the ‘unprofessional conduct’ or ‘misconduct’ of peace officers,” the groups said in a statement. “This bill, however, unnecessarily singles out one profession - law enforcement - for prosecution, marking the first time any occupation would be subject to criminal penalties for failing to report speculative violations of undefined conduct.”

The groups said there are already “extensive guardrails” to address police misconduct and hold bad actors accountable.

“Adding new rules targeting police who may or may not be ‘reasonably aware’ of another officer's possible misconduct appears more punitive than solution-oriented,” they said.

They also said a bill like this can’t be thoughtfully considered with little time left in the legislative session.


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State Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said there is plenty of time to consider the bill and make any necessary changes.

“What I've heard time and time again is law enforcement saying the thing that a good cop hates the most is a bad cop,” said Herod. “This bill holds those bad cops accountable."

Herod said she’s thankful Rees and others have stepped forward to craft and support the bill.

“It is extremely brave to see McKinzie and so many others stepping forward to tell their stories,” said Herod.

Rees plans to testify in support of the bill when it’s heard in the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday afternoon.

Rees said she resigned from the Edgewater Police Department because she was about to be fired. She believes she was retaliated against for speaking up about what happened to her.

“Just speaking up about things, you get a lot of backlash when that happens,” said Rees.

She said because her police record includes a resignation in lieu of termination, she’s not been able to get a job.

She’s currently involved in a lawsuit with the City of Edgewater and hopes to have a resolution soon so she can get back to doing what she loves.

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