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UPDATED: Christensen cleared by internal probe into wiretapping allegations

Jennifer Smith
jsmth@littletongazette.com
12/19/11

Editor’s Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve published everything I received from the DA’s office below this story. I fully expected the names of those involved to be removed, but they weren’t.

An internal investigation by the city into Littleton Police Department Div. Chief Bill Christensen, instigated by allegations the department was recording its employees’ phone calls without their knowledge, has resulted in no disciplinary action.

“The city has concluded an internal affairs (IA) investigation as a follow up on the El Paso Criminal Investigation,” City Manager Michael Penny wrote in an e-mail to LittletonGazette.com. “City policy is to complete the criminal prior to the IA. … All other details of any IA are confidential and personnel related.”

Christensen was exonerated of charges of Class 4 policy violations related to computer use and information security. Allegations of Class 1 violations of policies regarding obedience to orders and conformance to law were deemed unfounded.

Policy violations in LPD are rated on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being the most serious.

Also, the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office recently released its investigation into the wiretapping allegations, which were originally brought to light by someone going by the name of “fob” who posted them on LG.com’s “Your Thoughts” page July 25. In May, a system was installed and began recording 26 phones - those of sergeants, lieutenants, commanders and the chief. No official notification was made until the day after fob's post.

Former City Manager Jim Woods asked the DA’s office to investigate on August 12 after he found out Christensen, for a time the sole administrator of the recording system, had indeed listened to recordings of phone calls made by two officers.

A log from the vendor shows Christensen listened to at least 35 of Lt. Sean Dugan’s calls between July 15 and July 20. It's unknown when the calls were actually made, since the system had been recording since May.

At the time, Dugan was LPD’s public-information officer. He told Investigator Bart Dorscheid he didn’t know his phone calls were being recorded until fob’s post, and had not given Christensen permission to listen to those recordings. He said he’d heard about a week before fob’s post that a sergeant’s phone was being recorded. But he left for vacation July 25, and said he didn’t know his was, too, until he got back August 8 and saw a sticker on his phone. Those stickers were placed on the affected phones on July 26-27, during sessions held to train the officers how to use the system.

Christensen also listened to six of Det. Steve Zoratti’s calls on July 15. Zoratti initially agreed to be interviewed as part of the investigation but changed his mind the day it was supposed to happen. He told Dorscheid he’d been told about the recordings and didn’t feel like a victim.

The 20-page report reveals that other high-ranking officers refused to cooperate with the investigation, including Div. Chief Bob Brandt, Lt. Gene Enley and Lt. Paul Creadon, who was Dugan’s supervisor.

According to the narrative, Dugan recorded a conversation he had with Chief Heather Coogan, during which she told him he didn’t have to cooperate and that she had told Creadon there would be "serious repercussions” if he did. She added that she knew the investigator had tried to talk to others, according to the report.

“Dugan told me he was cooperating with me because it was the ethical thing to do,” wrote Dorscheid.

Dugan was reassigned from investigations to support services in May after Cmdr. Bruce Beckman retired; Christensen was promoted from commander to division chief while on leave and under criminal investigation.

Dorscheid never spoke to Coogan or Christensen as part of the investigation, though he did confiscate Christensen’s computer.

Two people in the information-services department, Scott Rogers and Johnson, told Dorscheid they had been concerned about installing the recording system without the officers’ knowledge. Another, Mike Schaefer, says he was stopped in the hallway on his way to lunch one day in early July by Chief Heather Coogan, Brandt and Christensen. He told Dorscheid they instructed him not to teach the officers how to turn off the recording system.

Schaefer admits in the report he was “Deacon” in the “Your Thoughts” page discussion, during which he said there was no way anyone could be listening to the recordings made on other people’s phones.

“He is upset by the fact that when he was writing the blogs he was giving out wrong information, even though at the time he did not know it,” wrote Dorscheid.

Dorscheid’s final report was turned over to El Paso County’s DA (not Denver’s, as indicated in the narrative) for final determination. El Paso recommended no charges be filed.

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UPDATE
1/12/12

Editor's Note: We received a copy of the following memo from City Manager Michael Penny, which he will provide to city council. We asked him why the "testing, demonstration and troubleshooting" he refers to in the memo was mostly all done on one lieutenant's phone calls, and received this response: "... Not being here for the implementation, I don’t know the answer to that question.  It is my understanding there were several staff from PD and IS who were responsible for testing, demonstrating, and troubleshooting – it may be that one person was tasked with the bulk of the work, but that’s not a known fact of mine. 

As many of you know, a telephone system was installed in the new police building last spring. The Versa Dial system was acquired at LPD staff’s request to include recording capabilities. It came to management’s attention that some employees might have illegally accessed the system. Consequently, the city requested the Arapahoe County District Attorney’s office conduct an investigation to determine whether any illegal activity took place. At that time, one employee was placed on leave.The Arapahoe County District Attorney’s Office subsequently turned the investigation over to the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office. The criminal investigation was completed October 24. It was determined that there was no evidence that a crime had occurred, therefore, no criminal charges were filed. Following the criminal investigation, the city conducted a confidential internal affairs investigation, which is also complete. The employee subject to the criminal and administrative investigation was cleared of any wrongdoing both criminally and administratively. In addition, the internal investigation found that employees in the Littleton Police and Information Services Departments accessed the system on a number of occasions for testing, demonstration and troubleshooting purposes. The investigation determined that the actions of all employees who accessed the system were within the scope of their job duties. Consequently, there were no sustained violations of city policy. While there were no criminal acts committed or violations of city policy, I believe there was insufficient communication concerning the legitimate use of the system. Before guidelines and policies governing access were developed, employees were using the system for testing, training and troubleshooting. As a result, the Versa Dial system will not be reactivated until such policies are in place.I have reminded all employees that as a general principle, there is no expectation of privacy in the use of city email, telephone conversations, etc. This will be clarified in an upcoming policyrevision.

Furthermore, I intend to expand on an existing policy restricting use of city time and resources for employees accessing and posting to external social media and blogs. Any such policies will not infringe on employees’ First Amendment rights or off-duty conduct. However, employees are never permitted to release confidential information or information that is exclusively the business of the city without prior authorization to do so.This has been a difficult time for a number of our staff. We have an opportunity to learn from the past as we work internally to improve our organization. I intend to fully ensure that we exceed the city council’s expectations and goals of providing the highest level of service while operating the city with unwavering integrity and ethics. Our responsibility is to our community. I can assure you that we will not repeat the mistakes of our past. I am working with the departments involved to improve morale, revise policies, and ensure we are operating, as stated, with unwavering integrity and ethical standards. We have already added policies for Information Services and other improvements are in progress. I ask that you join me in putting this episode behind us and move forward together. If you have questions, let me know.