Reps of the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division say they want a positive relationship with the MMJ industry. But news that MMED enforcement chief Marco Vasquez accompanied a SWAT team on a recent grow raid raised concern among some advocates. And they likely won't be reassured when they learn Vasquez was once in the Denver Police narcotics bureau -- meaning he busted people for many activities he'll now be monitoring. And that's not the only controversial element in his DPD past.
Vasquez declined a request for an interview with Westword. But MMED spokeswoman Julie Postlethwait confirms that he was once a part of the DPD narcotics bureau. News reports from the '90s mention him as having served in this role as a sergeant and, later, a lieutenant.
Vasquez's name popped up in a different context following an incident that took place in September 1999. As noted by Alan Prendergast in the 2000 feature "Unlawful Entry," a Denver SWAT team burst into a home on 3738 High Street -- and before they left, a man named Ismael Mena was dead after being struck by eight bullets in his arms, face and chest.
Why? The residence was allegedly being used to sell crack, but cops later admitted the raid, set into motion by a warrant requested by Officer Joseph Bini, had taken place at the wrong address.
Vasquez wasn't among those who fired shots at Mena. So what's his connection? Here's an excerpt from Prendergast's article -- one that mentions a less-than-laudatory mark on his record:
Ten years ago, a Denver police detective named Marco Vasquez was castigated by the Colorado Supreme Court for making a "deceitful promise" to a potential informant. Vasquez had promised to help the informant get a deal on a weapons charge in exchange for his cooperation, even though the detective already knew that the charge had been thrown out for lack of evidence.
In another line of work, such a public tongue-lashing by the state's highest court would be considered a liability, but Vasquez was promoted. He was Officer Bini's commander at the time of the Mena shooting. He has since been transferred to the patrol division downtown, in the wake of allegations by technician Sue Scott that she felt pressured by Vasquez and others to alter reports in the Mena case. (Officials have said that Vasquez's transfer is not a disciplinary action; Scott's complaint is still being investigated.)
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The Mena case didn't slow Vasquez's progress through the DPD ranks. He ultimately became the department's deputy chief of administration before leaving to become police chief in Sheridan. Last April, the Denver Post reported that Vasquez was one of two finalists for the Manager of Safety position, having been selected by a committee led by mayor-elect Michael Hancock.
In the end, Vasquez didn't land the Safety Manager gig. Instead, he wound up at MMED -- and Postlethwait sings his praises.
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"We hired the best candidate for the job," she says, describing Vasquez as "a true professional who will be able to do the job he was hired for."
Doesn't his previous work in the narcotics bureau contradict his current duties?
"When he was a narcotics officer, he was dealing with illegal operations," Postlethwait points out. "Now, as a regulator, he is working with an industry that is legal in Colorado. So comparing the two is comparing apples and oranges. Both of these activities are to provide for the public safety, but aside from that, they are completely separate. One was an illegal activity versus a legal activity."
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