22 July 2009

Aurora Decides Investigating Its Own Is FBI's Job

Almost four weeks ago, the Aurora police department towed for lack of vehicle registration, a properly registered vehicle with a current registration sticker on its license plate, that just happened to belong to a lawyer suing the city, immediately after that lawyer had just been asked by the Aurora police for personal address information there was no reason for the department to have requested.

Today, the Denver Post reports that the FBI is now investigating the incident. But, what about the internal affairs department at the Aurora Police Department? Haven't they been conducting an investigation of the office about whom it has received a complaint?

No. In fact, the Aurora police department internal affairs department currently doesn't even plan to start an investigation until after the FBI has completed its investigation.

If the FBI declines to investigate, [Councilwoman Deborah] Wallace said she will order an internal investigation.

I seem to remember having repeatedly heard from law enforcement officers giving interviews in news stories and documentaries how vitally important it is to pin down the facts and try to break a case in the first couple of days after a crime may have taken place. But, apparently that principle does not apply when a case appears to involve multiple police officers who will have the knowledge and opportunity to coordinate their stories before being contacted by investigators, and electronic and other evidence that may be spoiled if too much time elapses.

While FBI involvement in the case is a positive thing, a lack of action on the part of Aurora's internal affairs department strongly indicates an intent to cover up the incident and implicitly endorse as a matter of policy the likely criminal conduct by the members of its police force in this case.

This also harms the taxpayers of Aurora by exposing the city to liability it might otherwise have avoided. Civil rights laws permit and encourage municipalities to escape liability by investigating and promptly throwing the bad actors under a bus. But, when a city implicitly endorses this kind of conduct, the city itself, which is ultimately backed by the taxpayers, rather than merely the officers acting inappropriately, can become responsible for under the law. Misconduct in this particular case, because it may constitute an obstruction of justice in current civil rights litigation, may also result in serious judicial sanctions in the current case levied against the city.

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