Incident details deserve open access to public
September 2, 1999
Earlier this week the Moffat County Sheriff’s Department clammed up, citing the situation is an internal investigation and details don’t have to be released because it falls within “personnel file” records under the Colorado Open Records Act.
So, did sheriff’s employees make mistakes, were they punished for their mistakes, is the sheriff covering up for his employees and how did the inmate hang himself when it is jail policy to take away all potential hanging items from inmates?
After the release Thursday of a Sheriff’s Department incident report, more information about the hanging is contained within a story in this issue of the newspaper. That’s good for the public.
Sheriff Buddy Grinstead campaigned last year on a platform of keeping the public informed even if it meant letting people know of problems within the department. I commend him on releasing as much information as he deems possible. However, I will respectfully disagree with him on not releasing more specifics on how an inmate was able to hang himself. I also understand that Sheriff Grinstead is following the advice of an attorney.
It’s understandable that any public official or manager would want to protect a subordinate if that person is a good worker and simply made a mistake. Nonetheless, that person is accountable not only to a supervisor, but to the public they are sworn to protect, especially when a man almost dies under the Sheriff’s Department’s watch.
Somehow the public specifically a charged but not convicted citizen wasn’t properly protected in the jail. The reasons for the incident and the consequences to those responsible should be told to the residents of Moffat County. How else will the people know if law enforcement is handling the public trust in good faith?
Recent events involving local law enforcement, charges of excessive force and harassment and lawsuits claiming the same, should give public officials a clue that people want law enforcement held responsible. People don’t want law enforcement making mistakes and not being held accountable protected, if you will, as if they were above the law.
Law enforcement has no problem releasing the names and information of people charged with crimes or involved in potentially illegal acts. Law enforcement should not have a problem releasing information about incidents involving officers who may have made mistakes or potentially committed crimes.
Knowing why sheriff’s employees almost allowed someone to kill himself in a public place, in the care of law enforcement, is information that should be fully open for review.