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Coming in the New Year

Boulder, at some point - how about now? - has to choose between its Police and its DA Office

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, December 26, 2007.

Christmas has been a tender time in Boulder for a decade or more. In 1996, JonBenét Ramsey was murdered in her own home on Christmas or the following day. A year later, a college student, Susanna Chase, was brutally beaten to death just a few blocks from where I had lived for two years on Canyon Boulevard. That was a half-way house, where I served part of my sentence for bad checks.

Those two murders have fixated people on what is called the power structure in Boulder, and that people who are rich and connected can get away with, well, murder. Despite alleged DNA evidence of a person unknown in the Ramsey case, the parents remain under suspicion by many, hardly relieved when the mother passed away. Given the god awful child beauty contests and talent shows in which the victim had performed, and given the very strange and unrelated people who would attend such a contest, it is viewed as a form of child abuse and enticement to those people, and at least indirectly their own fault. The fake ransom notes all written in the home over a period of time, and the many failures of police procedure do not reassure, either.

There is DNA evidence in the Chase case, as well, and it is assumed that it belongs to whoever killed her. That strikes me as only possible. DNA isn’t surety.

I mention all this grisly holiday fare because there was another case of child abuse resulting in death, this involving a couple from a prominent Boulder family. The couple is to be tried separately, and the mother was convicted of child neglect leading to a significant prison sentence. That bodes ill for the father, accused of doing the actual abuse, and he did not help himself by his threatening temper tantrum at his wife’s sentencing last week.

The often ludicrous Boulder Blogosphere went reflective and seemed to reach a consensus that gee, maybe Boulder isn’t always corrupt – a favorite trope - and the rich can get convicted as well as the poor. The case put on by the Boulder District Attorney’s office, wracked with internal dissent since the term limited DA selected an outsider as her hoped for successor, received applause from legal observers. Not a common conclusion.

What’s rarely mentioned in comparing the three cases is that the Boulder Police played an insignificant role in the baby case, because the family lived in Lafayette, and the investigation was conducted by Lafayette Police. The Boulder Police were front and center for the other two murders. Their actions in the Ramsey kidnapping/murder case can kindly be called monumentally incompetent. Their actions in the Chase case apparently were better but, so far, inconclusive and certainly unsuccessful.

All small towns are corrupt in the strict sense. You have a gazillion manner of contacts with various people. Cops, judges, government employees in city and county, are your neighbors, your child’s teacher, his soccer coach. Nobody is strictly objective. But the mutual distrust between the Boulder Police and the Boulder District Attorneys office is, at this point, institutional and damning for both. There is nothing mutually exclusive here: both could be incompetent, or maybe it’s primarily only one. After years of having first hand knowledge of the Boulder judicial system, and despite having no bad Police incidents myself, I’m thinking it’s mostly the Police, and God knows the DA and I do not exchange Christmas cards.

I do not think an entirely honest organization would allow CU’s football team to have a special contact – a liaison - in the Police Department. I know former prosecutors in the DA’s office who would use the County Sheriff’s investigators whenever possible rather than our Police. They did so, they said, because the Boulder Police would screw up investigations the Sheriff’s Department would not.

I interviewed a Boulder Police chief twenty years ago who said there were no gangs in Boulder despite the graffiti and much evidence and my first hand knowledge. Bad for our image, apparently. He travelled and gave lectures on murder investigation procedures without, actually, having successfully done many himself. But he gave a great spiel.

I have a bad feeling that there will soon be a major scandal involving the Boulder Police, and that several major past cases will be revealed to have been affected by it. The unspooling might start at the upcoming child abuse trial of the father, because they have the money and desperation to swing wildly at this bloated and thin pinata. It could eventually involve past CU football team programs, restaurant owners, and people once in power. It will not be pretty, and the sooner it emerges, the better. Because when a succession of elected DA’s don’t trust the police, how can we?

Happy New Year.