City, law enforcement bring in outside investigators

2 probes will look at Police Department investigation, ACET policies

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The man behind the investigation

Timothy Leary, who will soon begin an independent investigation of the Craig Police Department, is a 39-year veteran of law enforcement, spending several years in a variety of positions with the Denver police.

From 1979 to 1988, he was a lieutenant and sergeant for the patrol division internal affairs, and a member of the Metro/SWAT Bureau, Gang Bureau and Criminal Investigations.

For the next five years, until 1993, Leary was the captain/commander of the Criminal Investigations of Violent Crimes division, Denver police crime laboratory and patrol division for District 3.

He then moved into the role of division chief of special operations, deputy chief of administration and finally captain/commander of the Metro/SWAT Bureau before leaving the Denver police force in 2005.

He worked a few private security jobs before starting his current job as a private investigator in 2006.

Among his various duties with the Denver police, Leary oversaw a $130 million budget, and all investigations into homicides, deaths, assaults, sex assaults, child abuse, robberies and domestic violence for all of Denver.

In addition, Leary investigated more than 100 officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths.

His résumé states that, as a private investigator, Leary has worked with insurance companies, corporations, law firms and governments, and specializes in employee conduct, work place violence and sexual harassment.

The Craig City Council has hired an independent investigator to examine the Craig Police Department’s internal investigation in March of a former detective now charged with three felonies in Moffat County District Court.

On Tuesday, the council unanimously approved, 7-0, retaining Timothy Leary, of Denver, to review the internal investigation of Ken Johnson, who resigned from the Police Department on Sept. 8, as well as the department’s general policies, procedures and code of conduct.

Leary, who is a former captain and commander of the Denver Police Metro/SWAT Bureau, will be paid $90 an hour for his services, in addition to other fees.

City Manager Jim Ferree said there is no hard cap or estimate for how much the city will spend on the investigation, but Leary will make continuous reports to city officials so they can keep a close eye on the probe.

“People are beginning to wonder what we have going on here, and the best way to show them we’re not sweeping anything under the rug or trying to hide anything is to do this,” Craig Mayor Don Jones said.

Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta said he has sent Leary copies of the internal report and the department’s conduct policies. Leary plans to do some preliminary work in Denver and travel to Craig at a future date.

Vanatta added that he welcomed Leary’s assistance.

“We welcome a review,” he said. “I have no problem with this at all. … Everybody recognizes we can always do something different and something better.”

The Police Department’s investigation of its former detective was the focus of a special City Council meeting Oct. 20, when a few councilors expressed disappointment that the department did not find enough evidence to either fire Johnson or arrest him.

The police investigation was deemed inconclusive, though Johnson was suspended for a week without pay.

Johnson was arrested and charged after a later investigation by the 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

Johnson is charged with attempting to influence a public servant, a Class 4 felony; as well as accessory to crime and embezzlement of public property, both Class 5 felonies.

He is scheduled to appear at 11 a.m. Friday in district court.

All of Johnson’s charges stem from alleged misconduct during his time as a police officer and a member of the All Crimes Enforcement Team task force, and an alleged sexual relationship he had with Craig resident Tausha Merwin.

Johnson allegedly lied to police during the internal investigation about the relationship, aided Merwin in violating her probation, provided her with information about ongoing law enforcement investigations and gave her a laptop computer and other equipment used by ACET.

Vanatta told the council Tuesday that he stands by his department’s investigation, though the benefit of hindsight shows him that ultimately the wrong decision was made.

“This is going to boil down to the decision I made, whether that was a good decision or a poor decision,” he said. “I can probably tell you in hindsight what the answer to that is going to be.”

Local law enforcement officials also have asked the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to dig in to ACET policies and procedures.

The bureau also plans to look at how that agency is supervised — it is currently controlled by commander Garrett Wiggins and a board of regional law enforcement agencies — to see if any changes would improve the organization, Vanatta said.

Various councilors said they would be willing to pull the city’s funding of ACET if their concerns are not addressed.

“I have concerns about the day-to-day supervision of ACET,” Councilor Jennifer Riley said. “I support what ACET does, but I can’t say we’ll continue along and hope not to find anything else.”

The CBI plans to start Monday and will make its inquiry for free. Its investigation should be done within a few days, with a final report available about two weeks later, Vanatta said.

“If we need to make changes, we’ll make changes,” he added. “I’m not adverse to them at all.”

Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or cesmith@craigdailypress.com.

Comments

Vermillion 5 years, 1 month ago

Good for the city council. At the presnt time the Craig Police Department and ACET lack credibility within the community. Any department should not be investigating itself. An investigation should always be done by an independent person or group.

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sickandtired 5 years, 1 month ago

Kudos to City Council! CPDept, as well as the Sherriffs office and the DA office all lack credibility. Why haven't we heard result on Kathy Johnsons autopsy? Surely its completed by now? I read the arrest papers that some other posted on here to access. It was quite the reading material. Some pretty depraved human beings that Johnson and Merwin! Just after reading about Wigins complaints and the so called followup investigation, made my blood boil that Vanatta and DeLong couldn't, wouldn't, didn't fire his a**! So come on Daily Press, lets get that autopsy report out there.

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GlacierDragon 5 years, 1 month ago

Has it been more than 10 weeks? Toxicology can take a while and after that, if there was something funny, the autopsy would not be released. Plus, if they don't think there was another person involved, it won't take priority over cases where they do.

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westslopeguy 5 years, 1 month ago

OK, someone here has to tell me where I'm missing the link. We as a community, and subsequently the CPD is dissatisfied with the investigation completed in March. As Chief Vanetta said, in hindsight- with good reason. Hopefully we have learned that, as Vermillion points out, a department should not ''investigate'' itself. So, If I understand correctly, we're going to "hire" a 39year veteran of the Fraternal Order of Policemen cum rent-a-cop - for $90/hr PLUS EXPENSES - to investigate the Fraternal Order of Policemen in Craig. And this makes sense exactly, um, why? I could think of a more objective Timothy Leary to conduct this investigation, but that ties into another argument that seems to garner interest in these pages. Just my 2cents, Paul

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dexter 5 years, 1 month ago

High praise for the City Council, for doing what should have been done from the start. While you have CBI here in town please ask them to investigate the other law enforcement agencies in Moffat County who also have inadequate individuals as well.

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infofact 5 years, 1 month ago

I do applaud the City Council for attempting to bring in an outside investigator but I think a lot of us will dismiss the investigation because of the "thin blue line" mentality - once a cop always a cop and we protect our own. Please rethink your choice of investigators - an outside review is needed, but lets have it totally independent, please. From the amount of negative comments on Denver Police Dept internal investigators over the years, and subsequent confirmation of shoddy internal reviews, this review will probably not answer the questions the public has, nor will it be looked upon as truly independent, coverup will be on a lot lips as it is now.

I encourage the Council to do the independent investigation, but lets make sure it is truly independent. Get another investigator, please.

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gilbertjaramillo 5 years, 1 month ago

I remember approaching Chief Vanatta in 1999 and telling him that there was a methamphetamine problem in Craig and that if he didn't do something about it that is was going to get worse. His response to me was that I didn't know what I was talking about. Well, after two people being involved with the task force leaving the Craig Police Department, (let us not forget about Dusty Schulze), why was he not investigated and allowed to quietly leave the Police Department? Maybe this outside investigation should dig a little deeper into the activities of not only current but former members of the Department and the Task Force. I could add that after Operation Public Outcry was completed, the methamphetamine industry in Craig which should have been interrupted only flourished into what it is today. It is of my opinion that the whole Craig Police Department should be replaced and maybe this time we can have a Police Department we can be proud of!

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westslopeguy 5 years, 1 month ago

Sorry guys, (and girls since most of you are "anonymous"), but when or where did I miss the fact that Colorado Bureau of Investigations is investigating Mr. Johnson's or CPD's, (Chief Vannetta, by default), actions? Let alone "in town"?

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