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DENVER — A week after the Denver district attorney announced there would be no criminal charges against the people at the top of the Denver Police Department, new internal records show city officials expressed serious concerns about the department's chief and a deputy chief during the course of the investigation.
District attorney Beth McCann’s office announced last week no charges would be filed against Chief Robert White or Deputy Chief of Administration Matt Murray, who were accused of violating open records laws by not initially releasing a letter written by the former DA that harshly criticized the deputy chief.
Now the DA’s investigative file, obtained by Denver7 Investigates, shows two high-ranking city officials raised questions about the department’s top brass in interviews with DA's investigators.
The file also shows the chief and deputy chief did not give interviews to criminal investigators exploring the open records complaint, instead sending their attorneys to meet with the DA’s office.
Deputy chief had “never seen a letter like this before”
The controversy centers around a letter written to the chief by Mitch Morrissey, Denver’s longtime former district attorney. In his letter, Morrissey criticized the deputy chief’s “rush to judgment” in the arrest of an “innocent woman,” Angiella Arnot, who was accused of sexual assault (along with a now-former DPD officer) but never charged.
Chief White responded with a two-sentence letter saying he would “look at the totality of the situation and … ensure that the appropriate action is taken.”
In an interview with Denver7 Investigates in January, Murray dismissed the former district attorney’s concerns by saying he was camping the day the woman was arrested and was not involved with the decision to take her into custody. He also said he talked with the chief about Morrissey’s concerns.
“When the chief called me in, as he told Mr. Morrissey he was going to, he was also very comfortable with the decisions I made and the decisions the department made,” Murray said.
It appears that was as far as Chief White went to follow up on the district attorney’s complaint. He did not open an internal investigation, nor did he share the DA’s complaint with the city’s independent monitor.
Deputy Chief of Operations David Quinones, interviewed by district attorney’s investigators for the open records case, said he had never seen a letter like Morrissey’s before.
Quinones said when he receives complaints from prosecutors about officers or detectives, he “deals with those complaints” and would never get rid of a letter like the one Morrissey sent.
Mary Dulacki, the records coordinator for the Denver Department of Safety (which includes DPD), told the DA’s investigators she believes the letter should have gone to an internal affairs file and should have prompted an internal affairs investigation.
Nick Rogers, the president of the police officers union, told investigators that if a sitting DA had made him the subject of a letter as critical as Morrissey’s, he would be, “sitting at a desk somewhere waiting for my fate to be decided.”
“This is clear deception”
Police union president Nick Rogers said he heard rumors about Morrissey’s letter criticizing deputy chief Murray and decided to ask the department if it existed. That question ultimately launched the criminal investigation of the department’s top brass.
In December, the union twice filed open records requests for any correspondence between Morrissey and White about the case, only to be told by Dulacki the department was “unaware of any … electronic or written exchanges responsive to your request.”
Dulacki told DA’s office investigators that when the union requested correspondence between the chief and Morrissey a second time, she went to Murray and asked “What the hell do they think there is?” and Murray responded he didn’t know.
After twice being denied by DPD, the union submitted the same request to Morrissey in the days before the term-limited DA left office. Morrissey’s office provided the union with the DA’s letter and the chief’s response.
Sources later provided the letters and DPD’s records request denials to Denver7 Investigates. Denver7 then asked Dulacki about the situation on a Friday. Dulacki later told investigators she was “surprised and upset” about the questions and decided to ask Chief White what was going on first thing Monday morning.
Dulacki told investigators she “doesn’t trust Murray for historical reasons.” She said she discussed with the chief and deputy chief what the potential news stories might be and they responded to the effect of, “Oh well, that’s a one day story” and she was stunned because "White didn't open an [internal affairs investigation] into his second-in-command, then compounded it by not responding to the Colorado Open Records Act request."
Dulacki said she then reminded White that he doesn’t type his own letters, his secretary does it for him, and so his secretary would have a copy of his response. At that point White brought in his secretary and Dulacki asked if she had copies of the letters. In a few minutes, the secretary returned with both letters.
Hours after discovering the letters and turning them over to the union, Murray gave an interview to Denver7 Investigates recounting the secretary’s discovery.
The chief’s secretary told DA’s office investigators she keeps electronic copies of every letter sent to the chief and provided screen captures of her filing system. She said she felt she was unfairly blamed in the news coverage because no one asked her if she had the letters upon receipt of the union’s records requests.
Dulacki told investigators that her records request process can only be as good as “the integrity and honesty of the people I deal with,” then concluding, “This is clearly deception.”
Morrissey criticized his predecessor’s decision not to file charges, knowing White and Murray both knew of the letters yet said nothing to Dulacki about their existence when the union requested them.
"I've seen Murray's statement about how this was no big deal, that they wrongfully arrested this woman and should have followed the protocol, they debated if there was probable cause or not -- no big deal,” Morrissey said. “They have this poor woman, she gets arrested, she spends three days in jail and her reputation gets destroyed in this community. That's no big deal to this man. And I imagine complying with the open records act is no big deal to him either."
First amendment attorney Steve Zansberg said that while the DA's office may not have been able to prove a willful violation of the state's open records laws, the investigative file shows there are major problems in the police department.
"I think this report makes clear there are very serious questions regarding the integrity of the highest ranking members of the police department and the public should be concerned and demand there is a thorough investigation and a report into how this happened," he told Denver7 Investigates.
Independent investigation ongoing
Denver’s Department of Safety has commissioned an independent investigation of DPD’s handling of the entire situation, which began after the criminal investigation concluded last week.
District Attorney Beth McCann has declined repeated requests for interviews with Denver7 Investigates, saying in a statement:
“The CORA requests in question were handled carelessly by DPD, particularly by Chief White and Deputy Chief Murray. The public has the right to expect a quick and thoughtful response to CORA requests by city officials, particularly by its police leadership. However, there is not sufficient evidence based on all the evidence gathered in the investigation to find a knowing and willful violation of CORA beyond a reasonable doubt, which is required by the CORA statute in order to prove a criminal charge. I urge the leadership of the Denver Department of Safety and the Denver Police Department to examine and improve the process for responses to CORA requests. These requests provide the public with important access to government documents. Immediate and thorough responses are critical to provide transparency and accountability in government operations.”
Denver’s mayor Michael Hancock also declined a request for an interview to discuss the statements made to investigators by Dulacki and Deputy Chief Quinones, instead sending a statement from spokesperson Amber Miller:
“Now that the DA’s work has concluded, an administrative investigation by a third party has begun. The city takes the matter of open records seriously. This is the responsible next step to help bring this matter to an accountable conclusion.”
The Department of Safety declined to comment about the DA’s investigative file, citing the ongoing investigation.