Hall of Shame 1999
As chaos reigned inside Columbine High School on April 20, Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone told reporters that as many as 25 people could be dead as a result of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's rampage. Eight months later he defended those erroneous statements, telling the Rocky Mountain News that he was just giving out the best information he had at the time. "I think the public's got a right to know," he said.
The same day that article appeared in the News, however, Time magazine was publishing detailed accounts of videotapes that Harris and Klebold had made in the weeks leading up to the massacre -- tapes that Stone had refused to show the victims' families or local reporters, despite his earlier pronouncements about the public's "right to know." Stone claimed he'd been snookered by the Time reporter he'd allowed to see the tapes for background only; by trusting the journalist, he said, he "made a mistake." But by then, Columbine families had had enough of John Stone's mistakes. Outraged by what they viewed as his officers' timid first response at the school, as well as Stone's frequently too-hasty and fictitious blabbing to the press (four days before Christmas, Jeffco finally admitted that Harris's friend Brooks Brown was cleared of any complicity), by last week, eight of the thirteen families of those killed at Columbine were calling for Stone's resignation.
Stone's defenders say his handling of the investigation has been ethical and professional, that he's done as well as anyone could under horrendous circumstances. We say Stone ought to make up his mind. Does the public have a right to know -- in which case the tapes should have been released long ago (thus avoiding the holiday crush) -- or should the public remain as clueless as the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department?
Boulder District Attorney Alex Hunter can thank his law-enforcement colleague to the south for taking some of the public's heat. But Coloradans are still simmering -- and rightly so -- over the incredibly slow pace of the JonBenét Ramsey case. In 1998, Hunter earned a Hall of Shame honor for failing to charge anyone with JonBenét's murder two years after her death. Now three years have gone by, and there's still no one new under the umbrella of suspicion -- even though this year Hunter had an entire grand jury at his disposal.
On October 13, Hunter faced the worldwide media and made the following announcement: "I must report to you that I and my prosecution task force believe we do not have sufficient evidence to warrant the filing of charges against anyone who has been investigated at the present time."
So ended the work of the grand jury, which had spent thirteen months listening to secret testimony, and so also essentially ended a 34-month-long investigation (regardless of flaccid claims from Hunter's office that prosecutors' work on the case would continue) that had cost the City of Boulder more than $2 million and the DA's office all of its credibility.
"You will not get away with what you've done," Hunter had told JonBenét's killer back in early 1997. But that is exactly what has happened. In the no-indictment postmortem interviews, Hunter would explain his rationale for making that comment -- rationale that would reveal his highly sophisticated crime-solving techniques -- by saying, "I thought I might smoke the killer out." But this year, despite Alex Hunter's best smoke-blowing, even Santa Bear couldn't bring JonBenét's killer to justice. As a desperate Internet plea for information revealed, the missing teddy most likely had more information than Alex Hunter.
It's been a great year for executives at Colorado's monopoly telephone provider, US West. Santa left big presents in company honchos' stockings, particularly the silk one belonging to CEO Sol Trujillo, whose US West shares will be worth an estimated $97.5 million after the firm's $45.2 billion merger with Qwest Communications International is finalized next summer. The merry sounds emanating from US West's Tech Center headquarters these days aren't just the result of heavily spiked eggnog and drunken caroling: For a fortunate few, the new millennium holds the promise of endless days on golden beaches and well-manicured golf courses.
Unfortunately, Santa gave US West's customers big lumps of coal. Hundreds of Coloradans may still be waiting for their new telephone lines when Trujillo eventually takes early retirement. Documents released this fall as part of a consumer-fraud lawsuit against the company revealed that, through August of this year, US West had delayed 32,286 orders for new telephone service in Colorado by anywhere from one to sixty days. The company was also forced to acknowledge that it had lied to irate customers who'd called to find out why their phone lines hadn't been installed. This policy, which included creating fictitious installation dates, was known as "customer not educated."
Meanwhile, class consciousness at US West extended beyond corporate bonuses and became part of the company's service ethos. As he was grilled before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, a company exec admitted that US West had ranked every neighborhood in the state as either "gold, platinum, or bronze" based on income and told its employees to give priority to the wealthy areas. That way, US West executives who are about to unfurl their golden parachutes won't have to suffer the indignity of a dead line when they book a cruise ship headed for Aruba.
Yes, life's bitter here.
The Denver Police Department
On September 29, black-clad, mask-wearing Denver Police Department SWAT teamers burst into Ismael Mena's home, serving a "no-knock raid" warrant based on an informant's claim that he had bought $20 worth of crack at that address. When Mena, a father of nine who had reportedly been asleep when the police entered his house, pointed a gun at them, police shot back, hitting him eight times and killing him. The raid proved to be a real bust when the cops found no drugs in the house or in Mena's body; later, it turned out that they had raided the wrong house.
They would have been better off raiding the Denver police academy, where two-thirds of the cadets have confessed to using illegal drugs.
The ACLU's Mark Silverstein, who read the affidavit in Mena's case, says it never should have been issued: Police failed to provide enough information to merit the no-knock warrant. "This warrant came to attention because an innocent person got killed, but for all we know, police officers are routinely getting warrants issued on affidavits that do not provide sufficient facts," he says. "The Supreme Court has made it very, very easy for police officers to meet standards to get search warrants and no-knock warrants. When they don't even bother to comply with the lenient standards of the Supreme Court, that suggests a problem."
But as the unwinnable war on drugs escalates, the police act more and more like the military. And the Denver Police Department was already off to a sterling start even before the Mena debacle. After all, this is the department whose officers eagerly teargassed local citizens twice this year and were recently determined by a special prosecutor to have used "reasonable and appropriate force" in beating up two suspected drug dealers on live television this past August.
Can you say "police state"?
Here's a depressing thought: The more time you spend acquiring professional skills and experience, the less qualified you are to do your job. At least, that's the case if you're a television news anchor, a field in which youthful good looks count for almost everything -- that, and your ability to make conversation most people would walk away from at a cocktail party.
This fall, Rocky Mountain News television writer Dusty Saunders reported that local CBS affiliate KCNC/Channel 4 was trying to dump longtime anchor Bill Stuart before his contract expired in 2003. The ax looming above Stuart's neck was the result of CBS's obsession with trying to reach a younger audience, Saunders wrote. But after the 51-year-old Stuart then threatened to sue the station for discrimination based on age and disability (although viewers couldn't tell it from his staid delivery, he said he was suffering from clinical depression as a result of covering the Columbine shootings), Channel 4 retreated, denying Saunders's assertions that it was trying to tailor its broadcasts for immature audiences only.
As a result, Stuart's job is secure well into the next millennium.
Your Colorado Rockies
In August, the owners of the Colorado Rockies refused to help fund a light-rail spur in lower downtown. At the time, team co-owner Jerry McMorris's Nation's Way trucking company was fighting its way through bankruptcy proceedings (at one point, it tried to pay its top three executives bonuses equal to half their salaries while regular workers still waited for their last paychecks), and the team itself was suffering through a long slide to a 72-90 finish. Coors Field's most prominent feature was entire sections of empty seats as fans finally cried foul after paying ten bucks to park in lots that required them to walk more blocks than the average number of opponents walked by the Rockies bullpen on any given night -- only to watch their team lose. As LoDo bar and restaurant owners (many of whom had pitched in a significant amount of money toward the light-rail spur) bemoaned their decreasing business, the Rockies claimed that at a mere three blocks away, the spur was too far from Coors Field to do the team any good.
In September, however, after yet more bad publicity and a talking-to by Mayor Wellington Webb, the team finally tossed in its measly $300,000 (the same amount donated by Elitch's, the Pepsi Center and other attractions along the route; combined, those gifts total only $2.5 million out of the $41 million it will take to build the spur). But after the team traded Vinny Castilla to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays this fall, who'll want to come see them, anyway?
Former University of Colorado standout Rae Carruth has earned himself the distinction of being the first active National Football League player to be charged with murder. He was tagged with the charges on December 14 after the death of his girlfriend, Cherica Adams, who had been shot four times as she drove through a Charlotte, North Carolina, neighborhood on November 16. Carruth was in a car near where Adams was shot, and three other men in a separate vehicle have also been charged with murder (all four men were allegedly in contact via cell phone). Adams was six and a half months pregnant at the time of the shooting; doctors performed an emergency delivery of the baby, who survived. Law-enforcement officials say Carruth is the father of the child.
Carruth had been the Carolina Panthers' first-round draft pick in 1997. From 1992 to 1996, he'd played for the University of Colorado, where he held the school record for touchdown receptions and was second all-time in receiving yards and career receptions. He's one of only two receivers with two seasons of fifty or more receptions and 1,000 or more receiving yards, and he'd been voted most valuable player twice by his teammates. In one all-too-prophetic statement, then-coach Rick Neuheisel said, "Rae Carruth is a bullet. He's as fast in pads as out. He'll go by you in a hurry."
He wasn't quick enough to outrun the law, however. Free on $3 million bail, Carruth failed to turn himself in when Adams died -- and the result was a nationwide manhunt. Agents finally discovered him outside a motel in Wildersville, Tennessee, hiding in the trunk of a female friend's car -- adding unsportsmanlike conduct to his litany of charges.
Passersby were startled by the thunderous roar that erupted from the Denver Post tower at the end of August, but anyone who worked there knew what all the excitement was about: "El Britto Grande" had been fired.
That sobriquet was one of the milder ones given former editor Dennis Britton by his own employees. During his three-year reign, the Post lost its daily circulation lead to the Rocky Mountain News, and with good reason: Britton was known for running mind-numbing feature stories on the front page, like the tedious "Snapshot of Colorado" statewide bus-tour project filled with photos of rural residents. While Britton made sure the Post would never offend anyone powerful -- even the mayor's office could get stories killed with a quick telephone call -- he didn't hesitate to insult his own employees. Some of the best left, and several ex-Posties took their revenge by launching the "Dennis Britton Go Home Page" on the Internet, which featured countless stories of stupidities foisted on the staff by their preening boss. It always made for better reading than the paper itself.
After his unceremonious dumping from Denver, Britton returned to Chicago to run an obscure Web site -- an odd career move for a man who once described the Internet as "the CB radio of the '90s." He left behind a broadsheet with about as much fizz as a flat can of Coke -- and the circulation numbers to prove it.
Anne Sulton, Reyniko Abram, Shellyann Allen, Aretha Moore and Turkesha Tillis
In February, two days after the Broncos' 1999 Super Bowl win, Denver attorney Anne Sulton and her four clients dragged Broncos safety Tyrone Braxton into court on charges that he'd sexually assaulted the women at I-Beam, a now-defunct club on Larimer Square, on the day of the 1998 Super Bowl celebration. Reyniko Abram, for starters, claimed Braxton took her by the neck and hair, told her, "If you all ain't fucking, I ain't talking to none of y'all," and then made a vulgar comment about his penis -- before he "swung it."
But the women's stories didn't hold up in court. Finding their claims "extreme and outrageous," the jury quickly acquitted Braxton. And in October, Denver District Judge Morris Hoffman ruled that Sulton and her clients had to pay Braxton's court costs. "This case boiled down to four women making serious but utterly false allegations against a prominent sports figure in a completely transparent attempt to extort a settlement from him and/or his employer," Hoffman wrote in his steaming decision. "Their individual stories varied so much over time, both before and during trial and both as between the Plaintiffs and even as to a single Plaintiff's version, that by the time they were done, I, and apparently the jury as well, didn't believe a word of their testimony." And not only were the plaintiffs lying, they were "doing a rather poor job of it."
As for Sulton, Hoffman concluded, lawyers "should be chilled from making serious allegations without undertaking serious investigation. They should be chilled from filing complaints that name two eyewitnesses to a public incident when neither witnessed anything. They should be chilled from hiding from the claims of an inadequate investigation by retaining bumbling investigators who don't keep notes and don't write reports, and by themselves compiling a litigation file that consists entirely of a few scraps of paper."
Over the summer, Sulton left Denver for the greener pastures of New Jersey, where she planned to "dust off" her doctoral degree in criminology to write a book about crime prevention. Swing it, sister.
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