Investigator’s career was not free of controversy
Steamboat Springs — Despite periods of controversy during Heather Coogan’s lengthy law enforcement career, Steamboat Springs City Manager Deb Hinsvark is confident Coogan is the right person to investigate allegations against the police department.
“We are working on a really good solid plan,” Hinsvark said, adding that the investigation will begin Monday.
Coogan is the owner and CEO of True to Course, which offers workplace investigations management coaching and human resources.
“Confidentiality is strictly upheld and key to the integrity of the investigation and the reputations of all involved,” Coogan’s website says.
During her law enforcement career, she was an officer for 37 years and a police chief for 11 years.
When reached Friday, Coogan said she has done investigations for more than 20 municipalities, but she would not say what municipalities because of confidentiality. Coogan refused to explain how her investigation into allegations against the Steamboat police department would proceed. She also refused to answer questions about her career and referred questions to the city of Steamboat.
“I should refer all press calls to them,” Coogan said.
Former Steamboat detective Dave Kleiber, who has made the allegations against Steamboat Police Chief Joel Rae and Deputy Chief Bob DelValle, is critical of the city’s decision to hire Coogan. Coogan was recommended to the city by the city’s insurance company, and Kleiber sees that as a conflict for an independent investigation into the allegations. Hinsvark said she was unsure whether Coogan has done work for the city’s insurance company, but Coogan has done work for the law firm the city uses for employment law.
Coogan retired as chief of police from the Littleton Police Department in 2013 after becoming chief in 2007. According to news reports, Coogan and two top division chiefs took advantage of a new early-retirement incentive program for officers between the ages of 57 and 65. People who took advantage of the program would have their health insurance paid for until the age of 65, the Littleton Independent newspaper reported.
The paper reported Coogan’s retirement came as Littleton saw a record-number of homicides in 2012, with five.
“It also comes four months after a survey of city employees showed the police department was less satisfied with its direct supervision and senior leadership than other departments,” the newspaper reported.
The newspaper interviewed Littleton City Manager Michael Penny about the survey.
“The responses indicate opportunities for improvements, specifically in supervision, which we can focus on for the upcoming year,” Penny told the newspaper. “The good news in the areas of ‘senior management’ and ‘supervision’ is we have control over those areas and can work toward positive change.”
When a new police chief was hired to replace Coogan, the Denver Post reported that “morale had been low due partially to what officers said was a harsh environment created by former police chief Heather Coogan.”
Two division chiefs under Coogan retired with Coogan. They were also the subject of controversy over the years. One division chief faced allegations of sexual harassment/ hostile work environment, the Littleton Gazette reported. Allegations of sexual harassment/ hostile work environment were investigated by the city’s human resources department, and they determined the allegations were unfounded.
Allegations against a division chief were investigated by the District Attorney’s Office, but they decided not to pursue charges, the Littleton Independent reported.
The newspaper also cites an 1987 incident involving Coogan.
The Associated Press reported at the time that Coogan, formerly known as Denver Police Sgt. Heather Rodriguez-Hoeper, had a relationship with Denver Police Chief Tom Coogan, who was married to another woman at the time. As a result, Tom Coogan resigned as chief, saying he had shown poor judgement by having the affair. Tom Coogan later divorced and married Rodriguez-Hoeper, who would take the name Coogan.
Craig Police Department Chief Walt Vanatta said Friday that he has known Heather Coogan since about 2002. At the time, Coogan was the chief of the police at the Auraria Higher Education Center in Denver.
“I’ve always found her to be extremely professional and have extremely high professional ethics,” Vanatta said. “I think she is a great choice (to conduct the investigation).”
Vanatta said that it is no surprise that Coogan has been the subject of controversy.
“In this line of work you make people mad,” Vanatta said. “It’s not illogical that someone may not like her. That’s the nature of the beast.”
Vanatta, who has read Kleiber’s letter, believes Hinsvark is making the right choice with Coogan.
“If things need change, she’ll tell them,” Vanatta said. “The whole deal is sad, but it is what it is.”
Hinsvark said the city will pay Coogan $150 per hour plus expenses for the investigation, which is expected to take between two and three months. Hinsvark did not have a cost estimate for the investigation.
“Unfortunately, we have to figure out how to pay for it,” Hinsvark said. “I’ll pay whatever it takes because this is a very important thing to do for the community.”
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