Stonewalled

A year after the Columbine murders, agonizing questions remain about the attack, the police response, and a sheriff under siege.

But if Roche was overruled by his bosses in the matter, so was Battan; she didn't want to show him the tapes in the first place. "It doesn't matter what the intent was," she says. "There are going to be people who say, 'Why did you allow them to do this?' I don't know that we can answer that. But it seems absurd to believe that we let them see something, knowing they were going to put it in their magazine, when obviously it was going to cause a stir."

Obviously. Recognizing that other news outlets were after the tapes and fearing that it would get beat on its own scoop, Time moved up the scheduled publication of its Columbine story by a week, guaranteeing that the killers' venom-laced tauntings and recriminations would be on everyone's breakfast table in time for the holidays. Within hours of the magazine hitting the newsstands, the calls for Stone's resignation began. The sheriff was publicly vilified and privately castigated by seething victims' families, whom he sought to appease with apologies and offers to view the tapes. Merry Christmas.

The Time story presented a great deal about Columbine that was previously unknown to the public; it also revealed quite a bit about the leadership at the sheriff's office. Take the now-infamous picture of the sheriff and the undersheriff holding the murder weapons. The image was actually the result of two photo sessions. When the first session didn't produce a usable shot because of poor interior lighting, the photographer requested another chance outdoors. Stone and Dunaway obliged, dressing up and hauling the guns out of the evidence room for a second time.

Total recall: Judy and Randy Brown complained to the sheriff's office about Eric Harris a year before the shootings. Now they want the sheriff gone.
Total recall: Judy and Randy Brown complained to the sheriff's office about Eric Harris a year before the shootings. Now they want the sheriff gone.
Total recall: Judy and Randy Brown complained to the sheriff's office about Eric Harris a year before the shootings. Now they want the sheriff gone.
David Rehor
Total recall: Judy and Randy Brown complained to the sheriff's office about Eric Harris a year before the shootings. Now they want the sheriff gone.

Details

The Columbine Reader: Selections from Westword's reporting on the murders.

Here's how Dunaway explains the evolution of that picture. The photographer wanted "candid photos" of the officers in uniform. Then he persuaded them to assist him in photographing the guns, saying that shots of the weapons merely lying on a table were "too stark."

"Remember, the whole story was to be a closure thing," Dunaway says. "The way they were going to present these photos was, 'Here are the county's senior law-enforcement officials, determined to see this Columbine investigation through relentlessly.'

"I think they deliberately posed these photos to make them as inflammatory as they could. If they'd written the story from the slant they said they would, the photo would have been fine. But the way it came out, it made us look like a couple of Rambo nuts or something."

Randy Brown thinks the photo reveals why the sheriff's office opened its evidence vaults for Time. "They thought they were going to look like heroes," he says. "I believe John Stone thought he was going to be on the cover."

"That photo is ego, pure and simple," says one veteran Jeffco deputy, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "When Columbine happened, the smartest thing Stone could have done is say, 'I'm new here, talk to this guy.' That's not his style. He's concerned with whatever will put him on the front page."

Stone's supposedly colossal ego has been a sore point among his own line officers, many of whom regard the sheriff as a career politician rather than a career cop. As a candidate, Stone pledged to cut bureaucracy and beef up the number of street officers in the chronically understaffed agency; he's since reshuffled the command structure to create three "division chiefs," a new layer of management. (Stone says he's deployed more deputies by modifying duty schedules and has slightly decreased overall supervisory positions.) But much of the grumbling out in the field has to do with the sheriff's efforts to repackage the agency's image to suit him -- changing the official name from sheriff's "department" to "office," for instance -- while sullying its reputation with his shoot-from-the-lip behavior.

"Morale is as bad as I've ever seen it," the deputy declares. "The arrogance is still there, and we all suffer the consequences for it."

Brown accuses the sheriff of trying to "capitalize" on Columbine. In a six-month period following the shootings, Stone made presentations at eleven out-of-town conferences dealing with the tragedy, ranging from a Florida Sheriff's Association gathering in Palm Beach to a hate-crime symposium in Sacramento to a group of Canadian police chiefs in Ontario. He's hardly unique in that regard; school officials, fire and medical personnel and even journalists have offered their "expertise" on Columbine in dozens of forums since last April. Stone says he has "a professional obligation" to help other law-enforcement agencies prepare for incidents of school violence and to assist in developing intervention strategies before violence occurs. Still, his travels amounted to 32 days in six months; while Stone was overseeing the investigation and running the sheriff's office, over one-sixth of his time was devoted to speaking engagements out of state.

"He's gone around the country telling people how great he is and how his officers did everything right," says Brian Rohrbough. "At the same time, he's saying they're not going to critique themselves in this final report."

The Klebold-Harris videos are now tied up in several lawsuits, including one filed in federal court by the county attorney on behalf of the sheriff's office, seeking a belated ruling on whether those tapes and the school surveillance tapes can be turned over to the media. The Time story is still available to the public, though, and the recall group has made fliers featuring the photo of Stone and Dunaway.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
8
 
9
 
10
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...