Risk Averse

Today, the Colorado Springs Police Department is under continuing pressure from local and national media to divulge all pertinent details related to the shocking December 9 murder of two people and the wounding of several others at New Life, the megachurch made famous by disgraced pastor Ted Haggard. But prior to this incident, representatives of the force were less than forthcoming when it came to a lower-profile incident — an attempted liquor store robbery on November 27 during which the owner killed a man trying to stick him up. CSPD didn't identify the owner because he's a septuagenarian, albeit one who handles himself pretty damn well.

The contradictions in this policy were readily apparent in "Store Owner, 74, Fatally Shoots Would-Be Robber," published in the Denver Post on November 28. According to the piece, "The name of the man who fired the shot is not being released because of his age, which makes him an at-risk adult, police said." Nevertheless, the article suggests that the individual most at risk was the criminal, whom the owner felled with a single shot after the man brandished a weapon and demanded cash. Moreover, police identified the establishment where the fatal exchange happened (Jet Way Liquors) and its address (1645 Jet Wing Drive), thereby providing prospective crooks with all the information they'd need to confront the owner again — although why anyone would want to is unclear given his aptitude with firearms.

When asked about the strange "at-risk" rationale for keeping the owner's moniker under wraps, Post managing editor Gary Clark expressed concern. "This is a new one for us," he wrote via e-mail. "To my knowledge, we have never seen a police agency withhold the name of somebody because of his age." He added, "To withhold his name but identify him as the owner of a specific liquor store is, frankly, pointless. We are contacting officials in Colorado Springs to protest the decision and to determine what legal authority they have for withholding the name."

The CSPD rep who could presumably solve these mysteries is Lieutenant Skip Arms, the department's public-information officer. But during an interview on December 5, he was notably short of answers. Arms said the definition of an at-risk adult as a crime victim over age sixty "has been in our records-release manual for years," adding, "It's the district attorney's interpretation of the statute. The identity of at-risk adults is protected, similar to sexual-assault victims." Yet this argument had been contradicted two days earlier, when the Colorado Springs District Attorney's Office named the owner — Charles Kellogg — in a press release announcing that DA John Newsome had ruled out any charges against him. Arms speculated that Kellogg's name was included in the release because "it was already out there," just as the business's address had been. "The media was swarming all over that store," he recalled.

At any rate, Arms said that Deputy DA Denise Minish was researching the naming matter and should be able to render a verdict on whether or not the CSPD did the right thing by holding back Kellogg's handle. Minish confirmed that she was looking into the procedure, but she subsequently said she couldn't make a final determination until she consulted with Arms and CSPD attorneys, who weren't getting back to her on the topic in the wake of the New Life assault.

That's a good excuse, at least for now. Let's see how long it lasts.

Give me a libertarian or give me death: In the meantime, the Colorado Springs media is about to greet a strong new voice: Wayne Laugesen, who's leaving the Boulder Weekly, where he's toiled on and off since 1994, to become the editorial-page editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette.

For several months, the Gazette advertised for "a libertarian thinker who can consistently write distinctive, persuasive editorials for our daily newspaper and online in tune with our philosophy of (a) respect for the individual, (b) limited government, (c) free markets, and (d) free trade." At first blush, someone who's spent most of the past decade-plus at a progressive weekly wouldn't seem to fit the bill. But Laugesen, whose credits include a stint at Soldier of Fortune, never espoused the views shared by most of his Weekly colleagues. "It's always been heated and tense, politically," he allows. "I don't know how many times I've written some right-wing thing for the Weekly, which is owned by a left-wing publisher [Stewart Sallo] and has a liberal editor [Pamela White], and somebody has called up and said, 'You're fired.' It's definitely happened — but generally we were back on good terms within a few days."

Indeed, Laugesen speaks with great affection about the Weekly. But he admits that he expects to find more ideological harmony at the Gazette, where he'll start working in early January. "I'm going into an organization in which I at least come under the same big umbrella, philosophically," he says. "That hasn't been the case very often in my career."

At present, there are no plans for Laugesen to have a personal column in the Gazette; his job will be to express the views of the paper's editorial boards. Even so, he has strong opinions of his own about many subjects of interest in the region, the New Life shootings among them.

"This is a pivotal moment in the national gun-rights debate," he says. "I, like many other Second Amendment advocates, have been arguing for many years that organizations, schools, churches and any entity that is responsible for gathering large crowds of people in small spaces should take responsibility for those in attendance by tolerating, facilitating and encouraging sober, responsible adults to get trained in the use of concealed handguns and get permitted to carry them lawfully." Among those he'd like to see take this step are "pastors, teachers, janitors — anyone who can pass the test."

Sounds like Laugesen will be very comfortable in his new home.

Pulling up stakes: Like many of his fellow reporters in the area, USA Today's Patrick O'Driscoll has spent much of his time over the past ten days or so covering the slayings at New Life and an Arvada youth mission — and because his beat has long extended beyond state lines, he also contributed to a report about the massacre at a mall in Omaha earlier this month. But that's all over now. O'Driscoll, who's 55, reveals that he recently accepted a buyout agreement. As a result, the paper's Denver bureau, which has been in operation since 1997, will close on December 20, his official last day.

USA Today is one of the rare U.S. daily newspapers to have registered minor circulation gains over the past year or so. Still, O'Driscoll says, "we had a couple of very bad months of advertising sales this fall, and there's at best a cloudy view of what next year is going to be like." These developments precipitated a buyout pact aimed at anyone who'd worked for Gannett, the paper's parent company, for at least fifteen years. In the end, 43 people signed up, and because this total was just two short of the announced goal, further reductions aren't imminent.

O'Driscoll has several reasons for exiting. "This might be the last, best time to leave with a pretty reasonable ability to reinvent myself professionally," he says. Moreover, he feared his job might have been in danger because of the expanding "correspondents program," which uses reporters at other Gannett-owned papers around the country to essentially serve as USA Today stringers. This approach allows the firm to continue cutting back on far-flung bureaus. Encampments in locales such as Boston and Seattle shut down quite a while back, with more expected to follow. O'Driscoll says that after the buyouts, USA Today will likely have just one staffer permanently located west of the Mississippi: Bill Welch, in Los Angeles.

For now, one USA Today scribe remains in Colorado: Vicki Michaelis, a sportswriter who specializes in Olympics coverage. News-wise, however, the paper is getting out of Denver, just as locally based reporters for the Chicago Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other members of what O'Driscoll jokingly calls "the foreign service" have done in recent years. As the New Life and Arvada tragedies indicate, Colorado is still generating lots of nationally significant headlines. But publications can no longer afford to pay employees to wait around for the next one.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts