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DENVER — A letter written by the longtime former Denver district attorney accuses the Denver Police Department of ignoring longstanding protocol to rush a "completely unwarranted" arrest of an “innocent woman” who had been implicated in a sexual assault case involving one of its own officers.
Charges were never filed against the woman, Angiella Arnot, and the now-former officer, Davin Munk, but they spent several days behind bars and their arrests were heavily publicized. The case stems from a sexual assault investigation conducted in the spring of 2016.
Mitch Morrissey, who was term-limited and vacated the district attorney's office earlier in January, spoke exclusively with Denver7 chief investigative reporter Tony Kovaleski about his letter.
"If you Google it today, if you Google that officer's name or her name, it's going to come up that she got arrested for a sexual assault and that's wrong. That's just flat-out wrong," Morrissey said.
Denver7’s investigation also reveals questions over whether police leadership tried to keep Morrissey’s criticism from coming to light. The department denied two separate public records requests for the letter, producing it only after Denver7 started asking questions. But the police department’s deputy chief is shrugging off the controversy.
“The reality is all of us are charged with doing the right thing and I don't think the community really cares that much about us disagreeing about how to do something. What they really want is accountability, they want to know they can trust their leaders to make the right decisions. And we did,” Deputy Chief Matt Murray told Denver7 Investigates.
A complicated investigation
Many of the details of the allegations that led to the arrest of former Denver police officer Davin Munk and Angiella Arnot had been kept confidential by law enforcement – until now.
In response to Denver7’s questions about the former prosecutor’s letter, Denver police released a summary report of its internal affairs investigation into Munk. He resigned during that investigation, which revealed he spent “significant amounts of duty time” exchanging sexually explicit messages with the woman who ultimately accused him of rape. Internal affairs investigators also spoke to several witnesses who said they saw Munk pull out a gun at a party in 2015.
The summary shows the arrests came after a woman (whose identity is not being revealed by Denver7) told investigators “Officer Munk and a second female party forced her to engage in non-consensual sexual acts and that Officer Munk pointed his firearm at her and pulled the trigger.”
That woman initially reported the incident to police in Avon, who notified Denver police on May 2. Investigators interviewed the woman on the phone that same day, and in person at police headquarters the next day – May 3. Murray said the woman provided information in the interview that was corroborated with physical evidence.
“This victim came to speak with us. I had a sergeant from sex assault investigations present, I had a detective from the sex assault unit present, I had a chief deputy district attorney, the office of the independent monitor, internal affairs staff and internal affairs command,” Murray told Denver7. “When the time came to make a decision about what to do, I polled the room and I said, ‘What would we do in any other case?’ And if someone disagreed they didn't speak up. There was a consensus in the room that this was a serious sexual assault with a firearm that this was a danger to the public and the right thing to do was what we would do in any other case and we made that arrest.”
Police sought an arrest warrant for Munk the same day they interviewed the alleged victim. The internal affairs summary indicates police did not know the identity of the other woman accused of participating in the assault until the following day, May 4, when the complainant identified Angiella Arnot from a photo lineup and police got a warrant to arrest her.
“They arrested me in front of my home, in front of everybody,” Arnot told Denver7. “My face was all over the TV and … I was all over the Internet.”
Two days after Arnot’s arrest, the case fell apart. Investigators found something on the alleged victim’s phone – which she had turned over voluntarily during her interview on May 3 -- that led prosecutors to believe the case shouldn’t go forward.
"We shouldn't put somebody in jail when we know full well that we're never going to be able to charge them," Morrissey said in his interview with Kovaleski. "And in this situation, all they had to do is look into that cell phone. They had permission to do it. They had the code to do it and they didn't do it."
Neither Morrissey, Murray, nor the internal affairs summary went into detail about what specific information on the phone led the DA to refuse charges. Arnot also said police and prosecutors never told her what prompted them to drop the case and release her from jail. It’s also unclear why it apparently took several days for police to review the data on the phone in detail.
Deputy Chief Murray told Denver7 Investigates during his interview the police department’s technical unit had “huge struggles” getting information off the phone. But the internal affairs summary says that on May 3, the same day police obtained the phone, “a complete dump of all data held on [the complainant’s] phone was conducted … [providing] over 12,000 messages, texts, photographs, videos and postings.” The summary does not mention any challenges getting information off the accuser’s phone. Rather, it mentions difficulty retrieving data from Officer Munk’s phone.
"I will tell you, to this day, I don't know if there was a sexual assault or not," Murray said. "What I know is, several days into the investigation, some information that was on her phone came to light which caused the district attorney to take pause and believe they couldn't proceed with a case."
“This was not a sexual assault. And they had the information on her cell phone with her password. All they had to do is check the cell phone,” Morrissey said.
Arnot says she wishes police had taken the time to look through the phone before arresting her, then releasing a press release with her name and mug shot, and changing her life forever.
“I haven't done anything wrong. I've never had a record,” Arnot said. “I think they thought that they had some huge case. They wanted to take down a police officer and they were going to take anybody else along with him.”
Longtime district attorney criticizes investigation
The arrests of Munk and Arnot faded from the headlines until January when Denver7 Investigates obtained a scathing letter about the case written to Denver police chief Robert White by former district attorney Mitch Morrissey. Morrissey’s letter pins the blame for the failed arrests on Deputy Chief Matt Murray.
“I cannot remember authoring a letter like that in my 33-year career,” Morrissey told Denver7 Investigates. “They arrested an innocent woman and that upset me.”
In an interview with Denver7 Investigates, Murray fought back against many of the claims in the letter. He minimized his individual input on Arnot’s arrest, saying he was actually out of town when police made the decision to arrest Arnot and inform the media about her arrest. He provided a receipt showing a three-day camp site reservation starting May 4, the day police sought an arrest warrant for Arnot.
"Unfortunately [Mitch Morrissey] did not bother to get the facts before he wrote the letter and that gives me reason to question the entire tone and nature of the letter, because this is incredibly factually inaccurate," Murray said.
Morrissey said he was on-call the day Davin Munk was arrested but never received a call from police about the investigation, something he would have expected given what he described as a long-standing protocol of notifying the on-call prosecutor of major investigations. Morrissey says he understands why Munk was arrested because the allegation involved a gun, but had he been called, he says he likely would have advised police to slow down and review all of the evidence before arresting Arnot.
"I'm not bound by the district attorney's protocol for on call. But if that's the great error here, then you have my apologies," Murray said. "What I did do was call a chief deputy district attorney who has extensive experience in sexual assault investigations. She happened to be sitting at her desk and was willing to come help us.”
Morrissey and Murray related very different versions of a confrontation between them in the days after Arnot and Munk were released from jail.
“I tried to have a conversation about it the next time I saw him,” Morrissey said. “I pulled him aside [and said], ‘What happened here, Matt? How come you didn't use the on call system? … You called a chief deputy who has never been on call her entire career. What happened here? What was the breakdown?’ And his attitude... he gave me the impression that you know he really didn't care what happened. And I was very concerned about the cavalier nature of his attitude. In fact I told him, shame on him. Because he didn't follow the protocol and he got an innocent woman arrested.”
The conversation happened at an annual memorial ceremony for Denver police officers – a venue the deputy chief said was not the right place for such a confrontation.
“I started to talk to him, but he began to raise his voice in front of the families of fallen officers to argue with me, to shout at me, about this incident. I walked away. So if he wants to call that smug, I call it inappropriate,” Murray said. “Mitch could've at any time called me. He could've asked to meet with the chief of police. There's numerous things he could've done to get the facts straight at least.”
Chief Robert White sent Morrissey a two-sentence response on June 3, reading simply, “Thank you for taking the time to express your concerns regarding the arrest of Angiella Arnot. I will look at the totality of the situation and will ensure that the appropriate action is taken.”
Morrissey says he never heard anything else from Denver police about the issue. Murray says he did not receive any discipline for the issues raised in the letter.
“This was a coordinated effort to try to cover up this letter”
Rumors that the district attorney’s wrote an angry letter about the deputy chief eventually spread through the rank and file of the police department.
“I heard that the letter might exist, and to be honest with you, I thought it was a little bit of an urban legend,” says Nick Rogers, a Denver police detective and president of the police union. “We wanted to know the truth.”
The union submitted two separate public records requests, one on Dec. 28 and one on Jan. 3, with the police department, asking for any electronic or written correspondence between White and Morrissey (or their designees) about the case. In response, the department turned over an email exchange between an investigator and a prosecutor – but not Morrissey’s letter nor White’s response to it.
“We put in the exact same request to Mitch Morrissey's office and asked if this letter did exist. I didn't know at the time it did, and within 24 hours I received this letter,” Rogers said.
Denver7 Investigates obtained all email correspondence about the records requests and learned the department’s records administrator emailed both White and Murray directly with the union’s inquiries. White apparently did not respond, while Murray said he had no records responsive to the request.
Just a few days after Denver7 Investigates obtained the letter and started asking questions, the department sent the union Morrissey’s letter, attached to an email reading:
“Was it a mistake to respond to an open records request and say you didn't have the letter?” Kovaleski asked Murray.
“No, because the response was based on people who didn't have anything, or didn't think they had anything, so they were answering honestly,” Murray said. “They didn't realize there was a copy of the letter on the secretary's computer.”
Rogers doesn’t buy that explanation.
“I can't imagine a letter this scathing, addressed to the chief of police, that the chief of police is not going to make the deputy chief aware that the district attorney has just basically called him out,” the union president said. “This was a coordinated effort to try to cover up this letter.”
“We’re going to re-look at how that happened, but this is just a very unusual circumstance,” Murray told Kovaleski. “You can tell by this interview we are hiding nothing, more than happy to talk about this. Clearly the district attorney has a lot of facts wrong here. There would have been no reason for us to suppress this letter.”
Denver7 requested an interview with Chief White, however he did not respond.
Watch Denver7 at 10 as we dig deeper into this story and speak with Arnot on the impact it had upon her.