The Message

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Vanity Fair readers have yet to see these remarks. According to Kimbrough, the magazine intends to publish the letter, but not until its September edition. In the meantime, interested parties can read it on "Setting the Record Straight." Under a paragraph that says Thompson's salvo contained "many false statements and misrepresentations," the page provides access to a "statement of facts" and a summary of the Auman case based upon a submission by the Colorado Attorney General's Office to the Colorado Supreme Court, as well as a copy of Ritter's letter.

"Setting the Record Straight" got another workout earlier this month because of "City Cops Could Face Oversight," a report by Jim Hughes published in the Friday, July 16, Denver Post. The page-one story dealt with repercussions from the death of Frank Lobato, who was shot by Denver police officer Ranjan Ford Jr. after he mistook a pop can held by the bedridden Lobato for a weapon. "After a spate of fatal police shootings that has led critics to question the integrity of the entire department," Hughes wrote, "the federal government now is threatening to sue to force policy changes, said Lynn Kimbrough." Later in the piece, Hughes credited Kimbrough with revealing that the subject of "patterns or practices" had come up during a conversation between Ritter and U.S. Attorney John Suthers, pointing out that the phrase can be found in "a 10-year-old law that the Justice Department invokes to sue police departments it considers incapable of operating safely without close oversight."

The rub? Kimbrough insists that she neither confirmed the feds' alleged threat to sue nor provided details of the Ritter-Suthers dialogue. "The attribution to me was wrong," she says.

Because Hughes's account ran on a Friday, Kimbrough knew that at least two days would elapse before any correction appeared; the Post doesn't publish on Saturdays because of the joint operating agreement that ties it to the Rocky Mountain News. So she immediately flew into action. "I called all the TV stations and said, 'If you're writing from the newspaper this morning, I would avoid the Jim Hughes article in the Post, because it's not accurate,'" she says. "In some cases, they weren't using the story. In other cases, they wanted to know what wasn't right. I tried to minimize the impact that misinformation had so that it wouldn't gain legs by other people using the paper as their source."

Meanwhile, Kimbrough went to the "Setting the Record Straight" page and placed three bullet points about the Hughes piece under the heading "The following articles need clarification," including one that maintains that "the federal government is not 'threatening to sue to force policy changes.'" She then sent e-mails, complete with the site's address, to a plethora of media organizations. Within hours, news that the DA's office was disputing portions of the Post account was all over town. Getting the word out was especially important, Kimbrough says, because she and Hughes remember the interview for the July 16 article quite differently.

"After several discussions on Friday, it was pretty clear that Jim and I had a disagreement about what I said in regard to the call between John Suthers and Bill Ritter," she allows. "My position was that I never relayed any information about the content of the talk, because I never knew what the two of them talked about. I'm pretty firm about that. And Jim's recollection was that a comment that included 'patterns or practices' was made in reference to that conversation." She couldn't offer definitive proof of her contention because "I didn't record my end of the conversation, and I don't know that Jim did, either. I guess we just have to agree to disagree."

When asked about their exchange, Hughes demurs. "I don't think I want to get into this in Westword," he says. Nonetheless, the correction printed in the July 18 Post implies that the memory disparity between Kimbrough and Hughes was never resolved. It began by acknowledging that "because of a reporting error," Hughes's story "wrongly said that Lynn Kimbrough...said the federal government is threatening to sue to force policy changes in the Police Department." But the next sentence maintained that Kimbrough had told Hughes that Ritter understood from his discussion with Suthers that "federal prosecutors could be looking at 'patterns or practices' in the Police Department." Since Kimbrough continues to deny this last assertion, it's no wonder she calls the correction "less than satisfactory. I would have been happier had they just used the first sentence, because that is correct."

According to Gary Clark, the Post's managing editor, Hughes's July 16 article was basically on the mark. Post metro editor Lee Ann Colacioppo looked over Hughes's notes and concluded that "this was a case where Jim talked to some people on the record and some people off the record, and perhaps he misattributed some information to Kimbrough," he says. But in "Police Vow Cooperation," a July 19 follow-up article also penned by Hughes, Ritter confirmed that "patterns or practices" came up in his talk with Suthers. "Both stories were accurate," Clark stresses.

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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