Three Grand Junction cops fired for vandalizing homeless camp

On Wednesday, we told you about allegations made against three Grand Junction Police officers accused of vandalizing property at a homeless camp.

At the time, homeless advocate Jacob Richards stressed how important it was for the officers to be held accountable -- and they were. Yesterday, GJPD chief of police John Camper announced that the officers in question had been fired.

Richards's reaction? "We weren't really surprised that the vandalism took place, especially when you look at how often these kinds of things happen nationally," he says. "But we were surprised at how professionally the department handled this."

After looking through documentation of the investigation, accessible by clicking here, "it seems like they were super-compassionate and humanistic when interviewing the houseless people," Richards notes. Moreover, the department made a point of keeping Richards, a key contributor to The Red Pill, an underground newspaper, and the organization Housing First! No More Deaths!, in the loop about the decision.

"Right before the press conference at four," he says, "the chief of police called to apologize for what happened."

Although officers Justin Roberts, Phil Van Why and Joseph Mulcahy have lost their jobs, they're not facing criminal prosecution, reportedly due to a lack of witnesses and other forensic evidence. "That's the DA's right and his call," Richards believes. "But we are definitely keeping the option of a civil action open. People were without a tent for a month, and they had things damaged by water when their tents were ripped. Plus, there's the psychological damage, too, when people who are supposed to protect you are slashing your tents. Some people have moved further out of town, and now have to walk three miles further, because it freaked them out so much."

A more positive event took place on Wednesday -- a demonstration at an odd wedge of land near the Grand Junction intersection of First and Grand. As noted by this article in Grand Junction's Daily Sentinel newspaper, the space was known as Colorado West Park and included trash cans and benches. However, the city says it was never officially designated as a park and now regards it as a median -- meaning that the homeless can't congregate there.

According to Richards, around a hundred people took part in the event over the course of the afternoon, "and it was probably the most civil civil-liberties demonstration I've ever been to. Houseless people got a chance to know each other, eat barbecue, play guitars, play hacky sack."

As a bonus, the police department didn't cause any problems. "We had a sergeant come up and say, 'Have a good afternoon, and just be careful crossing the street. That's our concern,'" Richards recalls. "And he gave me a card and said to give him a call next week, because there was something they were working on that we might be able to help with."

This outreach, as well as the discipline meted out against the officers, suggests to Richards that things may be moving in the right direction. "We're looking for solutions," he says. "So we're hoping this is turning over a new leaf for the way the houseless community and the police interact."

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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