Our view: City needs to stop stonewalling
It’s been more than seven weeks since Steamboat Pilot & Today reporter Matt Stensland filed a Colorado Open Records Act request for Reports 3 to 5 from the city of Steamboat Springs’ investigation into allegations of police department misconduct. This records request was subsequently turned over to Interim Police Chief Jerry Delong, because City Attorney Tony Lettunich deemed the reports to be criminal justice records.
In the city attorney’s opinion, the open records law that requires a response within 72 hours of a CORA request does not apply to criminal justice records. The newspaper’s attorney, an expert in First Amendment law, disagrees.
Either way, the response time has now ballooned to 888 business-day hours, and to add insult to injury, the newspaper learned last week that the interim chief was out of the office for two weeks and won’t be able to provide an update on the records request until his return, which further extends the time between request and response.
This delay comes on the heels of a July 31 email from Lettunich, which was sent in response to another query about when the newspaper could expect a response from Delong on Reports 3 to 5. In that email, the city attorney informed the newspaper that Delong was unavailable for a week due to “pre-planned matters that were scheduled when he agreed to accept this interim position.” He said Delong would return the week of Aug. 10 to continue his review and analysis of the investigation report.
At this point, it appears as if the city is stonewalling the newspaper and the public when it comes to releasing these reports.
We question why the decision on whether to release all or portions of the reports has been left up to someone serving in an interim capacity. We don’t doubt Delong’s ability to lead the police department in the absence of a permanent chief, but we believe the responsibility of releasing such an important document should not be left to someone with interim accountability.
It could be construed that city leaders believe this investigation will just go away now that the police department’s top two leaders have resigned and the city manager is leaving. But this approach of avoidance and stalling isn’t going to work, and in the end, it will only serve to breed more distrust and discord.
The public won’t be satisfied until they know more about the investigation’s findings, and the city won’t be able to move forward and put this issue behind it until citizens are assured a thorough investigation was conducted and can determine whether the serious allegations made against the police chief and deputy chief were validated or the men were exonerated. It remains our opinion that true resolution can only come if the reports are released.
Again, we look to the city council for leadership. Members of the council should ask to see the reports and then offer direction to the interim chief and the city attorney on how the information in the reports can be released to the press and to the public. City leaders need to stop stalling and start complying with the state’s open records law and release Reports 3 to 5 of the police investigation in a form that clearly characterizes the findings. And that action needs to happen now without further delays.
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