Six weeks after records request, councilman sees ‘pattern of avoidance’ | SteamboatToday.com

Six weeks after records request, councilman sees ‘pattern of avoidance’

— More than six weeks after a records request, interim Steamboat Springs Police Chief Jerry DeLong still has not decided whether to release three reports related to an independent police department investigation that led to the resignations of the department’s two leaders.

When reached two weeks ago, DeLong said he was reviewing the reports, and there was a possibility they would be released last week.

DeLong was not in the office Wednesday. City Manager Deb Hinsvark said he was not scheduled to return to work until Sept. 9. As the custodian of the records, it is likely a decision on whether to release the reports will not be made until DeLong returns to work.

The city considers Reports 3, 4 and 5 Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act records. By law, the city has 72 hours to respond to such records requests, according to Steamboat Today attorney Chris Beall.

“It’s disappointing that we haven’t made a decision, and it’s taking so long,” city council member Walter Magill said Wednesday. “It seems like there is a pattern of avoidance there.”

When Magill was asked why the city was avoiding making a decision, Magill said there were likely concerns related to potential lawsuits from people who were interviewed during the investigation who were under the assumption that their interviews would be kept confidential.

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City council members themselves have not been allowed to review Reports 3, 4 and 5, which were prepared by investigator Katherine Nuanes.

Magill said he was surprised a decision on whether to release the reports had not been made.

“Let’s make a decision here and move forward,” Magill said.

City attorney Tony Lettunich on Wednesday said in an email that he placed a call to DeLong asking about DeLong’s proposed schedule.

“Chief DeLong is continuing his evaluation,” Lettunich said.

Lettunich contends there is no time frame for a required response with Colorado Criminal Justice Act Records.

On July 10, the Steamboat Today filed the records request for the reports.

Lettunich wrote July 15 that the reports are criminal justice records, and he forwarded the request to DeLong.

"As to any records which might arguably be outside of the scope of the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act, we are treating those requested documents as personnel records and, as such, (they) are not available for review," Lettunich wrote July 15.

The Steamboat Today on July 23, through its attorney, asked Lettunich to reconsider, and the city subsequently released Reports 1, 2 and 6.

On July 24, Hinsvark released the summary of Report 6, which focused on policy and procedure changes that could be made in the police department.

On July 27, DeLong released Report 1, which was the report that dealt with alleged mismanagement of the city’s police pension fund, and on July 29, DeLong released Report 2, which dealt with the roles Hinsvark and Lettunich had played.

On July 30, the Steamboat Today asked Lettunich when DeLong would be making a decision on whether to release Reports 3, 4 and 5.

On July 31, Lettunich responded, "Interim Chief DeLong is out today and will be unavailable the majority of next week due to pre-planned matters that were scheduled when he agreed to accept this interim position. When he returns the week of Aug. 10, he plans to continue his review and analysis of the Nuanes investigation report and to respond as soon as that review and analysis has been completed."

The Steamboat Today has been weighing its legal options.

The City Council met in executive session on Aug. 14 for the purpose of receiving legal advice related to the defense of a potential lawsuit from the Steamboat Today.

According to the executive session agenda, Steamboat Today was "seeking private, confidential, statutorily and constitutionally protected information, including names, data, reports and other information, the release of which would be detrimental to individuals, employees, and the city as a whole."

On Aug. 20, Delong was asked by email what the status was of the reports, and he did not reply.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland