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Our View: Integrity of investigation compromised

At issue

The city has contracted with an investigator recommended by the city’s insurance company to investigate police misconduct allegations

Our view

It’s regrettable the perceived conflict was not recognized sooner and another investigator selected

The investigation into police misconduct allegations against Steamboat Springs Police Chief Joel Rae and Deputy Chief Bob DelValle began Monday. City Manager Deb Hinsvark chose former police chief Heather Coogan, who runs her own company that offers workplace investigations, management coaching and human resources, to conduct the investigation. Coogan was recommended to Hinsvark by the city’s insurance company, and in our minds, that connection compromises the integrity of the investigation from the very start.

At issue

The city has contracted with an investigator recommended by the city’s insurance company to investigate police misconduct allegations

Our view

It’s regrettable the perceived conflict was not recognized sooner and another investigator selected



The accusations leveled against Rae and DelValle by former Detective Dave Kleiber are serious ones involving sexual harassment, for-profit policing, bigotry and heavy-handed policing. It is imperative the investigation into these claims be painstakingly thorough, transparent and fair, and it must be conducted by an agency or private business that has no ties whatsoever to the city or any of the companies or entities the city does business with.

Coogan may not work for the insurance company directly, but she has done work for them on previous occasions, and that relationship immediately puts the integrity of the investigation into question.



The city’s insurance company has an economic interest in the outcome of any investigation into employee misconduct. To hire someone recommended by the insurance company immediately makes us think the city is attempting to limit its liability, and as a result the insurance company’s exposure, if accusations of workplace misconduct are found to be true.

Hinsvark has publicly stated she wants to conduct an independent investigation into these allegations, but based on the selection of the investigator, her motivation is suspect.

The public’s trust in their local law enforcement leaders has been seriously undermined, and if the city hopes to restore the police department’s credibility, it must ensure the investigation into the accusations is transparent and unbiased. The city must also define the scope of its investigation so the public can more easily envision the eventual outcome.

Is the investigation being conducted as a criminal investigation or is it looking into workplace conduct violations? Or both?

These are questions the public should understand before the investigation gets further underway.

We also think it is important for Hinsvark to remove herself from the investigation entirely. She is named by Detective Dave Kleiber in the letter he sent to the Steamboat Springs City Council, and there are allegations by other officers that Hinsvark may have contributed to the police department’s allegedly hostile and sexist work environment by ignoring or downplaying employee reports of misconduct leveled against police department leaders.

Hinsvark’s distance from the investigation is another way to ensure the investigation’s integrity.

The decision to place Rae and DelValle on paid administrative leave was a step in the right direction. If they were allowed to remain on the job, we believe their presence could potentially influence the fact-gathering process and constrain the investigator’s ability to interview witnesses, especially those currently working for the department.

Although this was a time for decisive action, we think it’s regrettable the city didn’t consider the appearance of a conflict created by Coogan’s tie to the city’s insurance company.

To end this investigation without obtaining an unbiased, supportable report is unacceptable, and we fear that is where the current investigative plan is headed.

If the allegations are proven to be false, Rae and DelValle will need the support of an unbiased and publicly available investigative report to help them regain the trust of the community. And if the allegations prove to be true, city leaders will need a comprehensive body of information that will provide them with clear direction on who to hold responsible and what actions need to be taken to fix the issues to ensure something of this alleged magnitude never happens again.


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