Investigator found evidence of hostile work environment, harassment and violations of city rules at Steamboat Springs Police Department

Investigator uncovers evidence of harassment, hazing at Steamboat PD

Scott Franz
A large mat welcomes visitors to the Steamboat Springs Police Department headquarters on Yampa Street downtown.
John F. Russell

— The investigator who looked into serious accusations against the leaders of the Steamboat Springs Police Department found evidence the city’s former top cops presided over a hostile work environment where several employees felt bullied and gender-based harassment was likely occurring for more than a decade.

A new summary of Katherine Nuanes’ investigation released Tuesday evening faults the police department’s former leaders on several fronts and claims many city policies were violated on their watch.

After they read the new summary of the investigation for the first time, city council members were disappointed by what Nuanes found.

Sexist terminology was used and tolerated by leadership, and several employees believed there was a sense of “bullying” from some supervisors within the department, the investigator found.

Nuanes also discovered a lack of training was “of great concern to officers” — some officers felt they were disciplined without due process and others were concerned by a form of hazing that new recruits had to endure at the department, according to the summary.

Other employees described a failure of the administration to “listen to line-level personnel.”

“There was a feeling that the organization was being run by fear and intimidation. There were several examples from employees, past and present, which point to this being accurate,” new Police Chief Cory Christensen wrote in his summary of the reports from the investigation. “This was a top-down leadership issue. City policies were violated in this area.”

Christensen released the new summary of the investigation’s findings to the public Tuesday evening after meeting with the Steamboat Springs City Council behind closed doors for about two hours.

The council hopes the new summary will help to bring closure in the wake of the investigation.

Council members also expressed confidence in Christensen to right the ship and implement needed changes at the department.

“We are a long ways from where we used to be,” Councilman Scott Ford said.

But council members were disappointed to learn about what the investigator found about Christensen’s predecessors.

“Poor management and oversight of the department,” City Council President Walter Magill said after he was asked to react to the findings of the investigation. “The legacy of the management wasn’t ever updated to a modern age, so it’s disappointing it was allowed to fester like this.”

After the council initially voted in December against a new summary of the investigation to replace the vague one that was released in July, a public outcry spurred the council to seek the more thorough report.

Christensen said that recent public comment also made him reconsider Interim Police Chief Jerry DeLong’s decision not to release information about the investigative reports that were being withheld from the public.

The new summary aims to let the community know what the investigator found while respecting the privacy of the witnesses who talked to the investigator, Christensen said.

Christensen’s new summary outlined several problems that the investigator found existed at the police department before Christensen and DeLong arrived.

The summary ultimately claims there were major issues at the department during and before the leadership tenures of Police Chief Joel Rae and Deputy Chief Bob DelValle, who both left their jobs at the conclusion of the probe.

Rae told the Steamboat Today in September that he disagreed with former City Manager Deb Hinsvark’s claim that the investigator found a paramilitary culture at the department under his watch.

The new summary, which does not fault or name specific employees, addresses a range of more specific complaints that were made by a former police detective and officers.

Nuanes confirmed that under the former leadership dating back to the early 2000s, new employees faced a harsh introduction and were shouted at and told to “sit down and shut up” after they introduced themselves to their new co-workers.

She also reported finding a “general feeling of bullying on the part of certain members of supervision” that was being tolerated by the administration.

In addition, Nuanes found evidence that one of the employees who was the subject of the investigation conducted outside business while on duty.

The summary does refute some allegations that were made against the department.

Nuanes did not find any evidence of a police department focused on making profits with tickets.

While officers were taught Krav Maga as a defensive tactic, Nuanes noted it is recognized as an acceptable form of training under state guidelines.

And the investigator found that Rae reported a motor vehicle accident he had in Colorado to the proper authorities.

Christensen told the council the department stands ready to move forward and make the changes that were recommended by the investigator.

Council members said the new summary satisfied their desire to learn more about the investigation.

They also expressed confidence in their new chief to move the department forward.

“For me, it provides the big picture analysis of what the reports found while also preserving confidentiality and privacy of people who were interviewed and people involved,” Councilman Jason Lacy said. “I’m really impressed with our chief and hopeful about the direction this department is going.”

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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