For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Rob Douglas: Chief issues gag order, threats

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Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Douglas here.

In a move that soils representative democracy, Oak Creek Police Chief Russ Caterinicchio issued a gag order to the Oak Creek Town Board Trustees and threatened criminal charges for violations of his command.

This week, in an e-mail to the board, the chief ordered:

"Effective immediately, August 18, 2008 at 0935 hrs., be advised that Commissioner Wisecup is being assigned to act as the official Public Information Officer for the police department. ANY and ALL requests for information from any parties, including the press, concerning ANY DIRECT and INDIRECT matters and/or issues in reference to the People v. Rodeman case must FIRST be referred to me for follow-up with Commissioner Wisecup. No information of any kind shall be released to anyone (including any internal police documents and/or manuals) without my permission. Any violation of this advice shall be considered a serious breach of confidentiality which could jeopardize the on-going criminal investigation of the People v. Rodeman case. No one is authorized to meet with or to discuss anything relating to the Internal Affairs investigation associated with the People v. Rodeman case. Anyone who breaches this advice may compromise the integrity and fairness of the investigation. This entire matter falls under my discretion and shall be considered a confidential police matter. There are serious liability issues that must be protected."

Additionally, Chief Caterinicchio met with trustees Chuck Wisecup and Dave Ege, Oak Creek's police commissioners. During the meeting, the chief threatened to criminally charge Mr. Ege, or any trustee other than Mr. Wisecup, with official misconduct if they discuss anything about the Rodeman case with anybody.

When a subsequent inquiry to Chief Caterinicchio was made, requesting that the chief provide the precise Colorado statute, the chief cited Colorado Revised Statute 18-8-404 First Degree Official Misconduct.

That statute addresses a public servant who intends to obtain a benefit for the public servant or another or maliciously causes harm to another.

The public policy issues raised by the chief's gag order and threats should be important to all who value representative democracy conducted by elected officials with transparency. These issues impact us all, not just the citizens of Oak Creek, and as Americans, it is our heritage to protect jealously the rights no government can take from us.

First, it is a conflict of interest for Mr. Wisecup to "act as the official Public Information Officer for the police department." Mr. Wisecup, as a trustee and police commissioner, has the responsibility to conduct oversight of the police. If the chief's order stands, Mr. Wisecup will be the spokesperson for the police concerning the Rodeman case at the same time he is a trustee with responsibility to examine and vote on issues surrounding the case.

Quite simply, if Mr. Wisecup remains the police public information officer, he must remove himself from all board matters involving the police to cure the apparent conflict of interest.

Second, Chief Caterinicchio's directive is a gag order intended to thwart elected officials from discussing anything about the Rodeman case with their constituents or the press. For the chief to issue an order denying the people's representatives the right to discuss matters surrounding the Rodeman case, including process questions, is to turn the American system of government upside down.

While it is perfectly within the authority of law enforcement to withhold certain documents that are protected statutorily as a result of legislative bodies enacting laws, it is not within the authority of law enforcement to issue gag orders against those very same legislators. Gag orders in criminal cases are the purview of judges and rarely are issued. If issued, they apply to the prosecution and defense - not to elected officials.

Third and most serious of all is Chief Caterinicchio's threat to bring criminal charges against Mr. Ege - or any other elected representative of Oak Creek - for violation of his dubious gag order.

The chief's threats are nothing more than a transparent attempt to shift the focus away from the legitimate questions raised about the conduct of his department, while simultaneously blocking elected officials from exercising their duty to communicate with their constituents and the press.

But, contrary to the chief's edict, it is the duty of Oak Creek Town Board members to deny Chief Caterinicchio's attempts to thwart their rights and responsibilities, and to protect all citizens of Oak Creek from a police chief who shows little understanding of civil rights and civil liberties.

The Oak Creek Town Board would be well advised to revisit its oath of office. That oath does not include being subservient to the police chief.

- To reach Rob Douglas, e-mail Douglas@privacytoday.com.

Comments

Malcolm_Reynolds 6 years, 4 months ago

To the Town Board, who is running Oak Creek? No one board member greater than the other. You have right to hire and you have the right to fire! You can vote to oust the Police Chief.

Part of your responsibility to your residents is "To regulate the police of the municipality and pass and enforce all necessary police ordinances".

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Scott Wedel 6 years, 4 months ago

"ANY DIRECT and INDIRECT matters and/or issues in reference to the People v. Rodeman case must FIRST be referred to me for follow-up with Commissioner Wisecup"

That is nuts. INDIRECT?? So any question regarding the Town's police procedures for traffic stops, pursuit, search and seizure, arrest procedure, Taser procedure, and so on is now illegal topics of discussion for Town Board except for Chuck Wisecup?

I am surprised that Chuck Wisecup agreed to this. It is an obviously impossible situation because he has been designated by the Chief (not the Town Board) to have power and privileges unique among Town Board members

It is like the Chief and Check have agreed to overthrow the Town Board by the police chief declaring Chuck Wisecup mayor of the police dept and no other Town Board member may question or release information that is legal to release, or exercise their rights to freedom of speech.

This is nuts. Check Wisecup should see the folly of this and return to being a board member with the same rights and privileges as the other board members. If Chuck Wisecup agrees with this policy and intends to carry it out and support the chief's attempts to enforce it then that is something that deserves censure from fellow board members and he should be removed as police commissioner.

To the extent there are liability issues, attempting to enforce this will only add more cases of police misconduct and thus increase the Town's liability.

It is triply nuts because there is no indication that anything that is supposed to be confidential has been leaked. The only thing obviously secret that was leaked was by the Chief when he faxed his secret Taser policy to the SB Today when they asked for the current OCPD Taser policy. The other Jan 1, 2008 Taser policy was proposed by the Chief as a possible replacement to the current Taser policy which would have had to been voted on by the Town Board to take effect so it clearly was not confidential.

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innovated 6 years, 4 months ago

This is clearly a conflict of interest here with Chuck as he needs to return to his board seat, with equal powers as the rest of the board members. What are you thinking, Chuck? It has always been my understanding that all police policies are public record and obviously, the 'chief' has again, elevated himself inappropriately with his pompous ego. The 'chief' needs to remember he is a public servant with serving the people of the town of Oak Creek. Board members: take your heads outta the sand!! United we stand, divided we fall.

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Matthew Stoddard 6 years, 4 months ago

Correct me if I'm wrong from watching too many Law & Orders, but aren't gag orders court directed in some manner, and not by police unless it's a directive to his specific employees under his command, having no specific control on anyone not under his employment?

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Scott Wedel 6 years, 4 months ago

If the Town Board members other than Chuck Wisecup were to discuss this gag order then they would be in violation of the gag order and would be subject to arrest.

If Town Board members other than Chuck Wisecup were to consider reprimanding the Chief then they would have to show that it was not directly or indirectly related to Cargo's case or be subject to arrest.

There are specific details of the arrest and investigation that should not be discussed by Town Board members. That was the information that the Town lawyer said that the Chief did not have to share with Town Board members. Thus, the Chief has already made it clear that he will not and has not shared confidential information with the Town Board. So because he has not shared confidential information then there is no confidential information that needs to be protected by a gag order.

Thus, the only information that the Chief could be hoping to suppress with a gag order is information that legally can be discussed by the Town Board members..

The most responsible reaction by the Town Board members other than Chuck Wisecup would be to state that they are not bound by the gag order and dare the police chief to arrest them.

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Scott Wedel 6 years, 4 months ago

The Chief states "There are serious liability issues that must be protected." which is obviously a legal opinion. So then he must a legal opinion stating that comments by Town Board members DIRECTly or INDIRECTly related to Cargo's case are illegal.

Does the Chief claim to have a legal opinion stating that he has the power to do this? Or is the Chief once again making up the laws that he intends to enforce in the Town of Oak Creek?

The Chief's lack of respect for the law scares some people in Oak Creek. There are now people that do not lock their homes that are now locking their cars because they are afraid that the OCPD might plant drugs in their car that they would then "discover" during a traffic stop. A police dept so divorced from reality acting upon their own made up laws is real hard to trust and far easier to distrust.

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misterkindbuds 6 years, 4 months ago

Speaking of gag order, at least they didn't have "penis" as the topic of their discussion as they do in Craig:

Geesh!!

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eastboy 6 years, 4 months ago

If the "Town Board" and/or Police Comissioners don't immediately throw this mentally unstable crackpot out on his ear you should ALL be removed from office for not doing Your Job and you all deserve what you got. He has broken more "freedom of information" rights that can be counted never mind common sense and courtesy issues the world recognizes. I hate to go there but maybe a good ACLU lawyer should be hired!

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Fred Duckels 6 years, 4 months ago

This publication spends a lot of effort keeping us informed of the fact that Oak Creek is a hick town. They seem to lack our sophistication and intellect. I'm sure they appreciate the publicity.

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Scott Wedel 6 years, 4 months ago

When a subsequent inquiry to Chief Caterinicchio was made, requesting that the chief provide the precise Colorado statute, the chief cited Colorado Revised Statute 18-8-404 First Degree Official Misconduct.

This is why the chief's actions cannot be explained away as being misunderstood. Instead of saying he was trying to remind everyone of the importance of properly handling confidential information, he attempts to defend his improper actions. How anyone could defend "ANY and ALL requests for information from any parties, including the press, concerning ANY DIRECT and INDIRECT matters and/or issues" defies rational thought. That is ridiculously far away from "confidential information".

He then cites C.R.S. 18-8-404. First degree official misconduct. (1) A public servant commits first degree official misconduct if, with intent to obtain a benefit for the public servant or another or maliciously to cause harm to another, he or she knowingly: (a) Commits an act relating to his office but constituting an unauthorized exercise of his official function; or (b) Refrains from performing a duty imposed upon him by law; or (c) Violates any statute or lawfully adopted rule or regulation relating to his office.

So the Chief (and Chuck Wisecup since Chuck went along with this?) must think that Dave Ege could have intent to maliciously harm the Chief and is might be exercising an unauthorized act of his official function.

If that is the claim then bring on the evidence. A Town Board member has a duty to the public and just because government would like to keep something secret does not make it confidential and improper to be released. There has been no hint that anything that is legally defined as being confidential has been released and the Chief has made it clear that he will not and has not released anything confidential to the Town Board.

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Eric J. Bowman 6 years, 4 months ago

I'd like to know why my town's Use of Force and Taser policies are SECRET. In fact, I'd like to know, given how much training and coverage are provided by the Sheriff's Department to OCPD, why we don't just use the County's Use of Force and Taser policies?

http://www.routtcountysheriff.com/images/502-UseOfForce.pdf http://www.routtcountysheriff.com/images/514-ConductiveEnergyWeapons.pdf

Surely, it makes sense for the Sheriff's Deputy providing cover to an OCPD officer to be on the same page, here. If the County were being sued by Cargo, would these policies become SECRET, like they are now here in Oak Creek?

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billinboat 6 years, 4 months ago

Woody Paige, the Denver sports columnist, frequently has said "why don't we just lock them all in a room and see what happens". That is a scary thought here as some of them have guns. I am worried about where this whole mess is going. Who are the voices of moderation and sanity?

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jpgolden 6 years, 4 months ago

I believe the Chief's choice in public infomation officer is great, I believe Chuck Wisecup can handel the job, there are only two of the board members who are police commissioners, that would be Chuck Wisecup an Dave Ege no one else, Chuck is the only an best choice. (innovated) you think their is a conflict with Chuck, how about Jay being mayor and a bar owner with a scanner in his bar, maybe Jay should resign. P.S. Scott Wedel who writes your comments for you?

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Ed Miklus 6 years, 4 months ago

The last time I looked we still had a Bill of Rights in this Country. Maybe someone should apprise Doctor Chief Caterinicchio and the OCPD about that, or in the alternative, just change the name of Oak Creek to Beijing, Colorado and be done with it.

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eastboy 6 years, 4 months ago

Ref:jpgolden 8/23 Now you have people writing in to complain about civil servants having the right to make a living; how many nuts ARE in the trees out there?

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Kristopher Hammond 6 years, 4 months ago

OCTB to RCPh.D: You're not the boss of me. In fact, I'm the boss of you. You're fired. Na Na Na---na Na Na Na---na Hey Hey Good Bye.

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Scott Wedel 6 years, 4 months ago

Seems that the Mayor is not too impressed with the Chief's and Chuck's proposed ministry of information.

I asked J if any response to the letter to ACET about independent investigation. He did not refer me to Chuck as the Chief and Chuck demanded. J answered that thinks the letter was sent a few days ago so there has been no time for ACET to receive it and give an answer. He added that it is his understanding that ACET lacks legal standing in Routt County and thus cannot do it. And that ACET can operate in Steamboat because Steamboat is a Home Rule city.

My question to J dealt directly with the independent investigation of the police dept in the Rodeman case. Thus, it was clearly a question that was to be directed to the OCPD ministry of information's Chuck Wisecup.

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Scott Wedel 6 years, 4 months ago

The thing that gets me about the Chief is that he keeps saying he is misunderstood, but never stops to explain himself. Instead of explaining why he wrote two Taser policies dated Jan 1, 2008 and took a copy of one from Rob Douglas and destroyed it, he comes up with a declaration that Chuck is the only Board member allowed to speak to anyone about any issue related in any way to Cargo's case.

Instead of saying they were wrong to force hitch hikers to catch rides outside of Town limits, the chief says he apologized to one of them. That one person stood up at the first police forum and told everyone that he researched the law and there was no legal basis for what the OCPD told hitch hikers. Chief did not respond. He later said that he apologized to one of the hitch hikers. Since I pick up people I know hitch hiking to OC, I know of many hitch hikers from OC that never received an apology. And the one person that did receive an apology felt insulted by it because the OCPD justification of harassing hitch hikers was because there were complaints about a guy panhandling and this guy is known to hitch hike. Anyone that enjoys their civil liberties should recognize the Chief's statement to be the very definition of profiling.

Initially I gave the Chief a chance and considered some of his requests such as detailed information as harmless quirks. Last fall in two incidents a few weeks apart, I gave the Chief video of kids doing dumb stuff in the laundromat including 6 girls there well after curfew. They were not damaging the laundromat, but kids making bad decisions with other kids and an adult with drug issues. I sat in with the Chief and the parents and that all seemed pretty reasonable. Then I started getting complaints from middle aged adults of the police bothering them at the laundromat. I asked the Chief what was going on and he said that he was helping me by keeping a close eye on it. I told him that I had video surveillance and that was working fine. Erik then said something like that they were professional police and if they were going to do something then they were going to do it right. And then they said something about they were enforcing the no loitering signs. I told him that if he is telling me that they cannot tell the difference between 15 year old girls being there in the middle of the night and middle aged adults there in the middle of the day then stay out of my laundromat. And I checked the law and loitering on private property cannot be enforced by the police without a specific complaint about a specific person at a specific time. That was my first indication that the OCPD makes up their own laws.

That is what is so noxious about the OCPD. They are not tough law and order guys that strictly enforce the law. They are inexperienced officers making things up as they go along. And way too many people have experienced these guys making things up.

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Duke_bets 6 years, 4 months ago

jpgolden - Jay was the bar owner long before he became mayor. To become mayor, you receive the most number of votes in a public election. Jay won 2 elections.

You should also read further into the posts by Wedel. He is capable of a proper English sentence. You need some serious help in that department.

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