Hall of Shame
The University of Colorado
The University of Colorado at Boulder received so many black marks this year, it's hard to focus on just one. The September death of eighteen-year-old frat pledge Lynn "Gordie" Bailey made national headlines and stoked the school's reputation as a bastion of wanton drunkenness -- despite a tightening of university alcohol policies that took effect just before Bailey died. A sloppy student riot on Halloween didn't help. Even animal lovers had a beef with CU: After the university declined to release 34 lab macaque monkeys to an animal sanctuary in Oklahoma, a group called "Free the CU 34" protested on behalf of the primates.
But it was sex, and lots of it, that brought the most embarrassment to Buffsland, as a federal lawsuit filed by three women who claim they were sexually assaulted by CU football players or recruits in 2001 continued to dog the administration. Two expensive internal probes and a grand jury investigation later, athletic director Richard Tharp and Chancellor Richard Byyny are out (the former resigned; the latter split for a new, more lucrative post with CU's Health Sciences Center), but head football coach Gary Barnett is very much in, despite reports that he habitually backed players against potential charges of sexual assault and ignored improper, even illegal, student behavior. After a three-month paid suspension, he returned to the field in May; late this year, he was named the Big 12 Coach of the Year by the Associated Press.
Guess the AP, like university president Betsy Hoffman, just doesn't get it.
In May, a 51-page report filed by the Independent Investigation Commission -- a body set up by the CU Regents to investigate, among other things, whether the athletic department uses sex and booze to recruit blue-chip athletes -- strongly suggested that Hoffman should give the boot to the whole lot. Instead, just as the regents rallied to her defense, the prez promised the public that the boys' club would remain intact. And in a deposition she soon gave in the federal case, she put her literary education to bizarre use by dropping Chaucer and suggesting that the word "cunt" is sometimes used as a term of endearment. Go, CU!
Hoffman's semantic snafu was just one of many jaw-dropping moments in the mess. (Cue Barnett's "Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible. There's no other way to say it" response to former kicker Katie Hnida's interview in Sports Illustrated, during which she told Rick Reilly that she'd been sexually assaulted by a teammate.) And in hindsight, Hoffman's medieval reference was oddly fitting, considering that the university's treatment of the alleged victims has remained determinedly unenlightened since the ball dropped on the whole scandal. At a public meeting where the independent commission's findings were released, for example, CU regent Jerry Rutledge told the families of football players that "no one has suffered more than you." Seems Heather Sturm, who resigned as the head of CU's Rape and Gender Education Program in August, and Amy Robertson, the director of CU-Boulder's Office of Victims' Assistance, who split in September, were right when they said CU fostered a culture of hostility toward women and complicity toward athletes.
The public may never be privy to a full portrait of that culture. Although the federal case is still scheduled to go to trial in May, one plaintiff dropped out earlier this month, characterizing CU's defensive tactics as "guerrilla warfare." A report compiled by the grand jury convened by Attorney General Ken Salazar remains sealed, in part because the regents requested it. Although the contents of that report are rumored to be highly critical of the CU administration, the grand jurors indicted just one person -- former athletic-department employee Nathan Maxcey, who maintains that the calls he made on a CU cell phone to madam Pasha Cowan's escort agency were for him, and him alone.
And the game isn't over yet. At the end of the year, new questions arose about financial transactions involving CU, the CU Foundation and the football school run by Barnett, promising plenty of shameful revelations in the new year.
When Montrose County Coroner Mark Young declared the death of 31-year-old William Rardin a homicide rather than a suicide in late September, he sparked a national debate -- and a recall effort. After the Grand Junction man, an organ donor, shot himself in the head, Young argued, doctors were so eager to harvest his organs that they failed to properly complete the testing and paperwork necessary to declare him officially brain-dead. But if Young simply wanted to point out the holes in the system by which we document death, his motivation was lost on most people; after a statewide review committee concluded that Rardin had indeed died of self-inflicted wounds, Young changed his ruling. That was good news for Rardin's family: Had the death remained a homicide, they would have had a heaping medical bill to add to their woes; under the suicide classification, those expenses were covered by the Donor Alliance. But the reversal alone wasn't enough to satisfy those who claimed that Young -- a paramedic, not a doctor -- had brutalized a family in order to make a point. While they dropped a recall effort in late December, they've vowed to make sure he doesn't get re-elected two years from now.
Dave Thomas and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department
Outgoing attorney general Ken Salazar kept himself busy with more than coeds and kickers at the University of Colorado. A state grand jury also looked into allegations that officials in Jefferson County knew more about Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold prior to the Columbine killings in April 1999 than they'd let on. In late September, the grand jury released a summary of its findings, including evidence that a few days after the worst high school massacre in history, District Attorney Dave Thomas met with a bevy of county attorneys, as well as then-sheriff John Stone and Mike Guerra, a bomb investigator with the Jeffco sheriff's office, to discuss -- and then hide from the public -- an affidavit that Guerra had drafted to search Harris's home in 1998. That piece of paper indicated that Jeffco had at least one flashing red-light warning about the soon-to-be teen killer -- and did absolutely nothing about it. The grand jury handed down no indictments, leaving instead a frustrating litany of what-ifs. What if Guerra's warrant had been issued and executed? What if Jeffco had followed through on Judy Brown's complaints that Harris possessed pipe bombs -- as well as the will to kill her son Brooks? What if Jefferson County had been more interested in the families of those killed and victimized by the two murderers than saving face with a grief-stricken public? The grand jury's summary doesn't offer any answers. But it does show us that Jeffco officials, in a moment when it was absolutely critical to serve the public interest, instead served their own. And in doing so, they added another sorry chapter to the shame of Colorado.
Marvin Heemeyer spent three years stewing over the many ways he'd been screwed in Granby, by Granby. The Grand County town had never let him hook up his muffler shop to its sewage line, as he'd so nicely requested. The Granby town council and planning board didn't listen when he tried to stop a cement plant from being built next door. The bastards didn't even try to stop him as he painstakingly constructed his "MS Tank" -- a sixty-ton Komatsu d355 bulldozer. So on June 4, he simply had no choice but to ram the goddamned thing through the center of town, smashing thirteen buildings, including city hall and the library. Heemeyer, 52, believed that God wanted him to destroy the town of 1,200 and that it was his destiny to die in the 'dozer. And indeed, when the tank got stuck in the back of a hardware store, Heemeyer shot himself in the head. His rampage cost more than $5 million, but the damage goes even further. In October, a group of local gals stripped down for the "Ladies of Granby 2005 Calendar," a fleshy, full-monty-style fundraising scheme. We can only imagine the naked-old-lady bit wasn't part of God's plan.
The Denver Police Department
In June, Denver announced that it would house the DPD's Intelligence Bureau files -- a controversial archive better known as the "Spy Files" -- in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection. That was a welcome development for the American Civil Liberties Union and the hundreds of people and groups whose activities were documented in those files. In November, voters approved changes to the Denver Charter that will allow an independent monitor to serve as a DPD watchdog -- one of a series of reforms designed to encourage public trust in the cops, especially in the minority communities. But if the department really wants to earn the trust and respect of the public -- especially the Latino and African-American public -- it's just got to stop shooting people. In July, 63-year-old Frank Lobato was chilling in bed when Officer Ranjan Ford Jr. shot him in the chest after mistaking a soda can in his hand for a weapon. For the first time in over a decade, Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter sent a cop-shooting case to a grand jury, which deadlocked on whether charges could be filed against Ford -- and so none were. Civilian oversight and accessible records are great things. But they're even better when they aren't overseeing and recording innocent people -- even ones with long rap sheets -- killed over a Coke.
Denny Neagle got off easy. He paid only forty bucks for the blow job he got from a West Colfax hooker in early December. But that head trip could cost the Rockies $19 million if the team can't find a way to avoid paying off the rest of Neagle's contract. The 36-year-old pitcher was charged with a DUI in 2003 but kept his job; apparently driving while drunk sets a more acceptable example for young sports fans than does cruising for sex. Then again, back in 2003 Neagle could still pitch; because of an arm injury, he never saw any action this past season. Except on Colfax, of course.
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