- File photo
- Police Chief Carey faces a records snafu.
Thousands of Colorado Springs Police Department reports never made it to prosecutors, despite the fact that defendants are entitled to see such materials prior to trial or seeking a plea bargain.
A CSPD news release said about 3,000 electronic reports, primarily narcotics-related, that spanned four years were involved, but added "that number may turn out to be significantly smaller once we complete our review." That appraisal contradicts an internal memo written by a high-ranking officer, which was obtained by the Independent. It described the discovery as being "of great concern."
"No one has reviewed these reports and ensured they were followed up on," the memo said. "No special unit supervisor looked at the reports and assigned them. There are thousands of reports that may or may not have suspect information. There are reports that may have been useful in cases that have been prosecuted and the information would be considered discoverable."
The Indy learned of the misplaced reports when tipsters familiar with police operations (who spoke only on the condition of anonymity) revealed that the department has lost track of up to 30,000 supplemental police reports.
Supplemental reports are produced after an officer makes an initial report on a crime, often when new witnesses are identified or additional information is required. The reports in question, the sources say, weren't shared within the police department to enable further investigation, nor were they provided to the District Attorney's Office. (The CSPD release acknowledges that reports were not given to the DA.)
The Indy asked the police department about the allegations at noon on Feb 16. Later that day, at 6:33 p.m., the department issued its news release.
While the state public defender's office didn't return a phone call seeking comment, a local defense attorney called the situation "unbelievable."
"It's incredibly troubling and probably calls for reversing some convictions," attorney Shimon Kohn says. "The DA's office and the police department have an obligation to maintain a flow of information [to criminal defendants]. The scope of this could be enormous, and the impact could be very long-lasting."
The CSPD news release said "discrepancies" were discovered in early February during an internal audit of the Metro Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence Division, a multi-jurisdictional drug task force composed of officers from CSPD, the El Paso County and Teller County Sheriff's Offices, and Fountain and Woodland Park police departments.
The release didn't say why the department was auditing MVNI and said the problem was isolated to that unit.
"The information that was not provided to the District Attorney's Office appears to be primarily administrative in nature," the release states. "In an abundance of caution, the CSPD and the DA's Office are evaluating all filed MVNI cases from 2013 forward and resubmitting the entire case files to the DA's Office to ensure all of the information is provided to the defendants."
The DA's Office was notified on Feb. 8, the CSPD's release said, although the DA's Office refused to comment to the Indy, even about whether or not it had been notified by the CSPD. The news release didn't address cases that might already have been adjudicated and what, if any, impact withholding the reports from defendants might have. Nor did it explain how the problem occurred.
It did say the MVNI unit recently changed its case filing process "to remedy this issue," and that the review is ongoing. The CSPD later promised to hold a news conference after the audit is completed and noted more than 168,000 cases were entered into the electronic Law Enforcement Records Management System (LERMS) in the past four years.
Not much is known about the details of the flawed system, except that the CSPD went live in the past week or two with the next generation of the LERMS. The department has used the system for several years.
An anonymous source who's familiar with CSPD operations says supplemental reports are supposed to link electronically with the original report and transmit to the appropriate division, such as sex crimes, homicide or property crimes. The source says rumors are flying among personnel that up to 30,000 reports weren't linked.
According to a police source, who discussed the issue with the promise of anonymity, the missing reports weren't discovered during an audit, as CSPD claims, but during the LERMS upgrade. Those reports, the source says, were "never looked at, never investigated, never followed up on," because officers didn't know about them. "There are probably people running around who were not arrested," the source says.
It's also possible people may have been convicted who might have been acquitted if the reports had been disclosed to defense attorneys.
Tim Bussey, a criminal defense attorney in Colorado Springs, says the process of discovery is "fundamental to due process," which is guaranteed by the Constitution. "If these supplemental reports have not been provided, it can compromise the defense," he says.
Withholding such reports could become the basis for motions to withdraw pleas, seek new trials or reverse convictions, he says.
"What if a supplemental report contradicts the initial report?" he adds. "They [prosecutors] are going to have to go through all these supplemental reports that weren't provided, and notify the attorneys or the defendants in each case."
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office is transitioning to the same LERMS version used by CSPD, with plans to activate the upgrade in May after two years of preparation, says Sheriff's Administrator Larry Borland.
In an interview prior to the CSPD press release, Borland seemed unaware of the problems associated with CSPD's records system.
After the CSPD release was issued, Sheriff's spokeswoman Jackie Kirby said via email, "The Sheriff's Office will not be commenting on any issues at another law enforcement agency."
Responding to a question about the LERMS system, she said, "We remain confident the design features specific to the El Paso County Sheriff's Office will meet our needs and requirements for case routing, organization and filing."
A string of missteps
The CSPD's records disconnect is reminiscent of the department's inadvertent destruction of thousands of pieces of evidence, as revealed by then-Police Chief Luis Velez in April 2006. Velez announced that evidence unit workers improperly destroyed about 20,000 items in more than 9,100 cases. According to an Indy report at the time, Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons, a group that pressures police to solve cold cases, called the situation "unprecedented" in state history.
Velez left the department that year.
The supplemental records problem is only the latest fumble on Police Chief Pete Carey's watch. In the last year alone the Indy has reported:
• The department's temporary loss of Colorado Police Officer Standards Training certification due to some officers failing to meet training standards.
• Suspension from the military surplus program because the department lost track of an M-16 rifle.
• The discovery that the department's take-home vehicle list — which contained officers' names, home addresses and license plate numbers — had fallen into the hands of drug dealers.
• The escalation of the crime rate to its highest level in several years as the numbers of officers has fallen and response times to top priority calls eroded to an average of 11 minutes. Three weeks after the Indy's report, Carey announced he would shut down some special units and reassign those officers to patrol.
• Carey allowed a long-time officer to remain on paid leave for at least five months after Carey became aware he was under investigation in the Denver area for racketeering.
• So far this year, there have been seven homicides. If that rate persists throughout the year, the city could set a new homicide record.
Through all of that, Mayor John Suthers has expressed support for Carey, and even supported a change in the pension plan rules last year to allow him to stay longer. Asked for a comment on the records issue, Suthers called it "unfortunate" and wrote in an email, "we are glad it was identified and can be corrected."