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The city this week released new information about its investigation into a case of alleged misconduct involving five officers in the Boulder Police Department’s detective section, revealing a “process breakdown” that resulted in officers not investigating dozens of cases of reported crimes.
One officer in the city’s detective section was overwhelmed with his caseload, and his supervisor allowed cases assigned to him to pile up for about a year, according to an investigation summary released to Boulder Reporting Lab through a public records request.
The issue was discovered earlier this year through a department review of its case management system. At that time, an officer had a backlog of 46 open cases, some of which may have dated back to his assignment to the department’s detective unit in 2019, according to the report.
The investigation was conducted by the department’s Professional Standards Unit. The summary was written by Commander Rachael Clark and Sergeant Alastair McNiven.
The Boulder County District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the open cases in part to determine the severity of the reported crimes. Upon review, at least 12 have resulted in arrests or arrest warrants, according to the police department. Five have remained open for so long that the statute of limitations would bar any criminal charges.
The report said the District Attorney’s Office is not aware of any “revictimization of the victims in any of the cases” and that the office has “received no inquiries or complaints related to those open cases.”
The release of the investigation summary comes after repeated requests from journalists and pressure from the city’s citizen-led Police Oversight Panel, which reviews internal investigations into alleged misconduct. One member of the panel said she resigned last month in part because the city said she could not share more information about this case.
On Dec. 6, the city released the names of the officers involved in the investigation, but had declined a records request for reports related to the investigation, stating “the appeals process for this investigation is not complete.” An investigation summary was provided to Boulder Reporting Lab on Dec. 21.
According to the investigation summary, Officer Kwame Williams told investigators in August 2022 that he was “overwhelmed with his caseload” and had triaged cases, potentially as early as 2019.
Officers interviewed as part of the investigation cited staffing shortages, “the disruptions of Covid and working from home,” and an inefficient case management system as contributing to delays in closing out cases, according to the summary. Williams had been keeping notes on paper and in a Word document that “only he could understand.” That created a “tedious” process to close out the cases or reassign them to other officers, the department said.
The investigation also found that Williams’ supervisor, Detective Sergeant Brannon Winn, was aware of an “unusually high number” of open cases since at least August 2021.
The department allowed Williams to leave the detective section and take on patrol duties while 46 of his assigned cases remained open. At least 18 of them appear not to have been investigated at all.
“We all own a small piece of this. I think it was a systemic failure,” Detective Sergeant Winn told investigators, according to the report.
‘Accountability mechanisms fell by the wayside’
The issue was uncovered as part of a department review of its records management system. The review was launched by Police Chief Maris Herold in late 2021, the report stated. In July 2022, Deputy Chief Steve Redfearn filed a complaint that kicked off the internal investigation.
Following the investigation, Herold suspended Williams for five days without pay.
She suspended his supervisor, Sergeant Winn, for one day without pay.
Sergeant David Spraggs, who previously supervised Williams, retired by resignation in August 2021, according to the report. In an email to investigators, he acknowledged Williams had an “extremely heavy” caseload. He declined an interview with investigators. “I wouldn’t be able to provide accurate, probative information without my notes/emails/etc. pertaining to detective case logs and case reviews,” he wrote, according to the report.
Commander Thomas Trujillo, who oversaw the detective section, acknowledged that he did not have a “formal, written process” to monitor supervisors in the detective section, the report stated. Trujillo was suspended without pay for three days and transferred to another division, according to the city.
Commander Barry Hartkopp, who oversaw the detective section during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, received a letter of reprimand.
An August 25, 2022 report by the police department outlined steps it was taking to address what it described as a “process breakdown.”
“Although cases were assigned and investigated, the review and closure of those cases were not timely or consistent, and accountability mechanisms fell by the wayside to a large degree,” the report stated. “It became apparent that the systems and processes were deficient and required attention.”
To address the management of cases, the report said the department will implement “formal reporting requirements and templates to be utilized consistently throughout the department.” It also said a policy is being drafted to require cases to be closed or reassigned if the officer they were assigned to leaves the detective section.
The city has said it is considering workload standards, such as limits on the number of cases any one detective can be assigned, and placing time limits on investigations. It said the department has launched a new data portal for case management to monitor the status of cases.
Police Oversight Panel recommended termination
The city’s Police Oversight Panel recommended terminating all the officers. It was a rare instance in which the panel and the police chief disagreed over how to punish officers over allegations of wrongdoing.
The case has prompted a discussion about the powers of the panel to speak publicly about cases of alleged misconduct. Boulder City Councilmembers are considering revisions to the ordinance that created the panel as soon as early next year. This could include making rules around disclosure clearer.
After the panel reviewed the case, city officials advised panel members on what information they can and cannot share with the public. (The ordinance currently makes panel members sign confidentiality agreements).
The panel members voiced some of their frustrations regarding these guidelines in a meeting with the Police Chief Herold earlier this month. Herold acknowledged their frustration. She suggested members learn about the role of arbitration, a litigation process typically led by police unions that has resulted in fired officers getting their jobs back.
In an interview with Boulder Reporting Lab, Herold indicated her decision not to fire the five officers involved in the detective section case was not influenced by the police union or the arbitration process.
“I wasn’t going to fire them because that wasn’t the right thing to do. Period,” she said.
This is certainly very unfortunate. Too bad the police are so understaffed that something like this comes up. Thanks to Chief Herold and the police force. Let’s hope that additional people can be added to the force as I know Chief Herold is working on. Hoping that the Oversight Committee doesn’t become more pretend progressive!
We were robbed while on vacation by our dog sitter. We reported the crime to the police and thought it would be an easy process since there was no question as to who the guilty party was. After an initial response we heard nothing for several weeks. When we finally did get a response from Boulder Police we were told that they couldn’t do anything because the dog sitter wasn’t answering their phone. Seriously.
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