Report details city manager’s response to complaints about police department | SteamboatToday.com

Report details city manager’s response to complaints about police department

Scott Franz

Steamboat Springs City Manager Deb Hinsvark speaks to police department employees before a city council meeting.

— After she listened last year to the city’s only female police officer describe a lack of transparency, possible gender discrimination and overly-aggressive police officers at the Steamboat Springs Police Department, City Manager Deb Hinsvark sounded conflicted.

In a private meeting Hinsvark called because attorneys had told her there might be issues with the police department, the city manager told Officer Kristin Bantle she was trying to figure out if there was something to be gained by launching an investigation and “shaking up” the police department, based on the complaints.

“Where do you think we are with this?,” Hinsvark asked Bantle, according to a transcript of the meeting that was taken from a secret recording Bantle made. “Is this so disastrous? So unsavable?”

Bantle replied that she didn’t think the police department was unsavable. But she said she was very concerned about the state of the police department and had some suggestions.

She had just told Hinsvark 70 percent of the department’s officers were looking for other jobs because of low pay and an administration that “makes officers feel like they are walking on eggshells.”

Bantle recalled how she felt a police sergeant was “rude to tourists” on a call.

Recommended Stories For You

She said there was no safe avenue to make a complaint against the department, because if you say something, “you could be the next to go.”

And she said she “blew a gasket” when another officer was promoted to sergeant when he had no supervisory experience and was at the department for less time than she.

Bantle was frustrated she had been passed over for multiple promotions because of what she felt was possible gender discrimination.

After hearing this, Hinsvark ultimately determined: “There is trouble in paradise, but not to the point where there is a hostile work environment where there needs to be an investigation and shake up the PD,” according to the transcript.

Instead, she would make other changes based on Bantle’s complaints and suggestions.

As a way to curb aggressive policing, Hinsvark took Bantle’s advice and ordered the police department to use body cameras for the first time, despite Police Chief Joel Rae being reluctant to deploy them.

Hinsvark said she told Rae to hire more women in the department and make it “a place women want to work.”

She also made the scoring matrix for promotion tests clearer to the applicants.

Fourteen months after Hinsvark’s meeting with Bantle, a former police detective would allege these actions were not enough.

Dave Kleiber accused Hinsvark of taking no corrective action, and in a letter that he sent to the City Council and circulated throughout the community, he also accused Police Chief Joel Rae and Deputy Chief Bob DelValle of creating a hostile work environment. These accusations and the resulting investigation eventually led to the police officials’ resignations.

Whether Hinsvark adequately responded to Bantle’s complaints became one of the subjects of the recent investigation into serious accusations against the leaders of the police department.

An investigator’s report released by Interim Police Chief Jerry DeLong on Wednesday provided the public a glimpse into the January 2014 meeting between Bantle, Hinsvark and City Attorney Tony Lettunich and also revealed what the investigator thought of Hinsvark’s response to it.

Investigator Kathy Nuanes determined that Kleiber’s allegation that Hinsvark did not promptly investigate claims of harassment was “not sustained,” meaning there wasn’t enough evidence to clearly prove or disprove the allegation.

‘Informal investigation’

Nuanes characterized Hinsvark’s response to the complaints from Bantle as an “informal investigation.”

She said Hinsvark and Lettunich came to a consensus that they did “not hear Bantle describe a hostile work environment.”

Asked Wednesday if she felt she did enough to respond to Bantle’s complaints, Hinsvark said she felt she took appropriate actions based on the information she had at the time.

She said the investigator agreed the response was appropriate.

“(Bantle brought us some) strong issues, and we responded to those,” Hinsvark said. “I was pretty happy she came forward and told us what she did.”

Hinsvark suggested if she had heard more specific examples of a hostile workplace environment from Bantle, she would have done more to respond.

“We asked her if there was a hostile work environment,” Hinsvark said. “She said she was a woman who wasn’t being promoted and (she was disappointed Dave Kleiber was gone.) We couldn’t piece together the issues for her. There were changes that needed to be made, and I made them.”

After reading the report himself, city councilman Walter Magill said last week Nuanes did not find any evidence of gross negligence on the part of Hinsvark.

Bantle has since been placed on paid administrative leave and “recommended for termination” after being charged by the Routt County District Attorney’s Office with a felony for allegedly lying on an employment application for the Routt County Sheriff’s Office.

“Report 2 shows, as we have consistently indicated, that Kristin Bantle is a thoughtful and concerned police officer,” Bantle’s attorney, Matthew Tjosvold said in a statement. “She used appropriate channels to express her concerns and to try to affect change within her department.”

The Steamboat Today is continuing to pursue other reports from the recent police investigation.

Read the full police report here.

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

Report describes heated meeting

Report 2 released by the city also details a heated meeting Hinsvark had with former police officer Nick Moore that Moore claims played a part in his demotion as school resource officer.

Hinsvark wanted to meet with Moore in 2013 to discuss a comment on the officer’s performance evaluation that was critical of the city’s response to stagnant wages.

Moore claimed Hinsvark spent the meeting “belittling him, threatening his job and acting completely unprofessional.”

According to the report, Moore became upset when Hinsvark brought up his previous accidents in patrol cars when he suggested he could get another job outside the police department.

Hinsvark felt Moore entered the meeting with an attitude and was rude, the report stated.

Hinsvark told the investigator the meeting was a mistake.

Moore said he had recorded the meeting, but the investigator never received a recording.

The investigator found the accusation that Hinsvark had violated city personnel regulations by being discourteous to employees was “not sustained,” meaning there was insufficient evidence to prove or disprove the allegation.