Michael Hancock prostitution story: Do Denver cops have different rules for mayor-elect, press?
Although the uproar over reports allegedly linking mayor-elect Michael Hancock to the Denver Players prostitution operation has died down, one journalist -- Complete Colorado's Todd Shepherd, who broke the story in the first place -- isn't giving up. But he's hit a roadblock with the Denver Police Department, which he sees as treating the media and the Hancock team differently.
By way of example, Shepherd, who's also employed by the Libertarian-leaning Independence Institute, shares a note he received from Mary Dulacki, records coordinator for the Manager of Safety's office, in response to an information request he submitted on June 20. The e-mail clearly references the DPD's decision to check surveillance evidence obtained during the Denver Players investigation to see if Hancock or his vehicle popped up in any photos -- which they reportedly did not. Shepherd's original missive is incorporated in Dulacki's reply:
The Denver Police Department PIO forwarded your June 20th e-mail to me for response. Your request was:
I have a few questions about the DPD's surveillance of the "Denver Players/Denver Sugar" prostitution ring.
1) Can the DPD disclose any resulting inventories as a result of the surveillance? I.e., number of photographs, hours of video, etc.
1A) Has the DPD verified the inventory recently?
2) Can the DPD estimate the number of work hours assigned to this surveillance?
3) Did the DPD create any inventory and/or database and/or list of identified individuals (customers, employees, or otherwise) associated with the surveillance?
4) Did the FBI assist in this surveillance, and if so, to what extent?
5) Can the DPD list or name any other tax evasion cases it has worked on in the last 5-10 years?
Records of the Denver Police Department are "criminal justice records," the disclosure of which is governed by the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act, C.R.S. 24-72-301, et. seq. Except for records of "official actions," the disclosure of criminal justice records is discretionary and can be denied where the custodian believes disclosure would be contrary to the public interest. C.R.S. 24-72-305(5).
Pursuant to Harris v. Denver Post, 123 P.3d 116 (Colo. 2005), the following factors are used to determine whether a record should be released or withheld:
(a) the privacy interests of individuals, if any, who may be impacted by a decision to allow disclosure of the record; (b) the agency's interest in keeping confidential information confidential; (c) the agency's interest in the integrity of on-going investigations; (d) the public purpose to be served in allowing disclosure of the record; and (e) any other pertinent considerations relevant to the circumstances of the particular records request, including whether disclosure would be contrary to the public interest.
Questions 1-3 of your request relate to evidence obtained from the joint federal and local investigation and surveillance into Denver Sugar/Denver Players. That evidence is part of the current federal criminal prosecution against Brenda Stewart by the Department of Justice. The law enforcement and prosecution interest in preserving the integrity of the criminal justice process and the defendant's right to a fair trial outweighs any public purpose to be served by commenting on evidence which was gathered during the investigation while the case is pending. Further, the United States Attorney's Office has formally objected to the release of any records or evidence held by the Denver Police Department because the release could negatively impact the prosecution.
As noted above, the investigation into Denver Sugar/Denver Players was a joint federal and local investigation and surveillance. Again, the interest in preserving the integrity of the ongoing prosecution outweighs any public purpose to be served by commenting on the specifics of the surveillance portion of the investigation as requested in your question 4.
Because tax evasion cases are prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office, question 5 may best be answered by that office.
If you have any further questions in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Mary Dulacki Records Coordinator
This rejection struck Shepherd as hypocritical, given that the DPD had shared information about the Denver Players surveillance material with the Hancock team. Hence, this subsequent e-mail to Dulacki:
I do have one follow up question.
In your letter, you state:
That evidence is part of the current federal criminal prosecution against Brenda Stewart by the Department of Justice. The law enforcement and prosecution interest in preserving the integrity of the criminal justice process and the defendant's right to a fair trial outweighs any public purpose to be served by commenting on evidence which was gathered during the investigation while the case is pending.
If such is the case, then why did the department give information to Mr. Michael Hancock and/or his lawyer regarding whether or not the surveillance yielded any pictures of Mr. Hancock? The department clearly commented on evidence regarding the surveillance, even though that evidence was "negative," i.e. a declaration that something specific was not in the inventory.
Furthermore, your letter states:
Further, the United States Attorney's Office has formally objected to the release of any records or evidence held by the Denver Police Department because the release could negatively impact the prosecution.
"...any records..." Again, I find this to be contrary to the department's actions when the department informed Mr. Hancock the surveillance yielded no photos of him.
Can you or the department please explain what appears to be a selective application of the principles claimed to be at stake when refusing to answer my questions?
Todd Shepherd Reporter/Researcher Independence Institute
Yesterday, Dulacki got back to Shepherd with this note:
The Department has responded to numerous CCJRA requests for records from this investigation, several of which specifically sought disclosure of documents or photos which identify or depict Mayor-elect Michael Hancock or any vehicle registered to him. Some of those requests also preemptively argued that the release of those records would not impact any pending criminal investigation or prosecution. The Department consistently asserted two separate grounds for denying the requests seeking records specific to Mayor-elect Hancock: that no such records exist and that the release of any such records could negatively impact the ongoing federal prosecution. After the Department received a formal objection from the U. S. Attorney's Office on June 13, 2011, the Department noted that objection in its responses as well.
The Department disputes your characterization that it was "commenting on the evidence" or that it "selectively applied the principles at stake" by affirmatively responding that the requested records do not exist. Rather, the Department was appropriately stating all applicable grounds for its denial of the requests, particularly in light of the fact that the requesting parties had preemptively challenged on of those grounds.
Mary Dulacki Records Coordinator Office of the Manager of Safety
To put it mildly, Shepherd doesn't buy this line of reasoning. "They bury it in a lot of words, but bottom line is, I'm still right," he contends via e-mail. Whatever the case, the turn-down could bear fruit down the line. Dulacki's argument about why the information can't be released now seems largely predicated on the prosecution of Brenda Stewart, Denver Players' owner following the reign of Scottie Ewing, the main source of information pointing at Hancock. However, Stewart struck a deal with prosecutors in April, agreeing to plead guilty to one count of tax evasion. She's slated to enter said plea on July 6, with sentencing on November 7.
This schedule suggests that the best excuse of the DPD and the U.S. Attorney's Office for snubbing Shepherd will likely be rendered moot next week or, at the latest, early November. Of course, these offices could well come up with more, especially considering rumors of other prominent Denver Players clients whose names haven't been made public to date. But that's a story for another day.
More from our Media archive: "Michael Hancock prostitution-ring story: The hilariously inconclusive phone records review."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.