Police misconduct investigation begins in Steamboat Springs
City manager: Council gave no direction
Asked Monday if her closed door meeting with the City Council last week influenced her decision to put the leaders of the police department on paid leave, Deb Hinsvark said the council gave her "no direction.
"They wanted to know where I was. They gave me no direction," Hinsvark said. "I think our city charter really is clear as to what their role is and what my role is."
Under the charter, the city manager and the city attorney are the council's only employees.
The charter states that "Except for the purpose of inquiry, the Council and its members shall deal with the administrative service solely through the City Manager and neither the Council nor its members shall give orders to any of the subordinates of the City Manager."
Asked after the executive session last week whether he was happy with the investigative process proposed by Hinsvark, council member Scott Ford told the Steamboat Today it was "not gelled out yet."
"Happy or not, it's probably too early to say," Ford said.
Steamboat Springs — Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that City Manager Deb Hinsvark did consider other options before having the city’s insurance company select an external investigator.
An investigation into Steamboat Springs’ top two police officials commenced Monday as a small group of protestors gathered outside the city’s police headquarters with signs that criticized the city’s top cops who have been accused of misconduct.
City Manager Deb Hinsvark, who on Friday placed Police Chief Joel Rae and Deputy Police Chief Bob DelValle on paid administrative leave pending the results of the investigation, said some aspects of the probe are still being finalized.
For example, Hinsvark said a public information officer who is not currently employed by the city could soon be hired to keep the community apprised of the progress of the investigation.
“I really would like to have someone who can handle all of these questions coming in, and be open with the community,” Hinsvark said.
Hinsvark said some phone interviews and other preparation will be conducted this week, while the investigator, former Littleton Police Chief Heather Coogan, is scheduled to conduct in-person interviews next week.
The individuals who made the complaints against the police leadership will be interviewed along with other potential witnesses.
Hinsvark said she didn’t know how many people would be interviewed during the probe that was spurred by a 10-page letter from former Police Detective Dave Kleiber that accused Rae and DelValle of creating a “hostile work environment” along with several other forms of misconduct.
The city manager added she is taking steps to ensure she is not influencing the investigation.
“The biggest issue is to make sure that I, as the final decision-maker, am not part of the investigation,” she said. “Once everything is together, the information will flow through our risk management office and away from me, which I think is good given the mention of me in” the complaint against the police leadership.
Kleiber criticized Hinsvark in the complaint against Rae and DelValle, and Hinsvark will be interviewed by the investigator.
She said more details about the investigation could be released Wednesday.
“I don’t think they can do this investigation fast enough, and they do take time,” Hinsvark said.
Police Captain Jerry Stabile has been named acting police chief.
Hinsvark said she plans to name an interim police chief soon, and Stabile will be considered for the post.
While the city prepared for the investigation to ramp up, recent Steamboat Springs High School graduate Jessica Miller organized a protest that started with about six protestors.
They handed out several copies of Kleiber’s letter.
They also said they were angry and upset after reading the letter and said action needs to be taken if any of the allegations are proven to be true.
“The goal is to just bring awareness to this,” Miller said. “We’re protesting for the fair investigation of this case, and no pay for the police department officials until they are proven innocent.”
A man who walked by the protesters called the signs, including one that said “We trusted you,” harsh and questioned whether the protestors had all of the facts yet about the claims against the police officials.
Other passersby were just curious to read the letter.
Choosing the investigator
Hinsvark said an external investigator was the only option she had.
She said she did look at other options before choosing the company’s insurance company to select that investigator.
“I didn’t have other choices,” she said. “An external investigator was my immediate thought, and my immediate route.”
Some community members and Kleiber himself have criticized the city for using the insurance company to select an investigator.
Coogan, who was the first female police chief in the Denver metro area before becoming an investigator, also did not have a career that was free of controversy.
Hinsvark said the city has an investigator who is “independent” and “highly recommended.” Some community members have called for the city to instead engage the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to conduct the investigation.
Hinsvark said the Attorney General’s Office would not conduct an investigation of this nature.
However, Hinsvark said the Attorney General’s Office will be interested in learning the outcome of the investigation because the state office administers the police department’s Peace Officers Standards and Training certification.
Hinsvark also explained her reasoning for placing Rae and DelValle on administrative leave just four days after saying there needed to be factual evidence to take action like a suspension.
“I had time to think it through,” she said. “I had time to ask other experts, and to talk to other police chiefs and Joel and Bob and then I made the decision that the investigation would be more pure if they stepped aside.
“You don’t make that decision lightly,” she continued. “These are people and their jobs and their careers and their lives.”