CSUPD chief resigns

Mar 082009
Authors: J. David McSwane

Suspended CSU Police Chief Dexter Yarbrough resigned late Friday afternoon, just days after being confronted with the findings of a nearly three-month-long investigation headed by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

Citing strict personnel guidelines, CSU Interim President Tony Frank hasn’t offered any details of the inquiry or its findings, but said that after meeting with Yarbrough last week, the two “mutually agreed” that the embattled chief should leave the university.

“Earlier this week Mr. Yarbrough and I met and reviewed all of the findings of the investigation as well as the overall status of the CSU Police Department,” Frank said in a press release. ” . Mr. Yarbrough and I agree that his resignation is in the best interest of the Colorado State University Police Department and the university.”

Yarbrough, who doubled as vice president for public safety and taught an undergraduate criminal investigations class, was placed on paid administrative leave Dec. 19, was stripped of his gun and police cruiser and was escorted off campus that day.

With a $156,000-a-year salary, Yarbrough was easily the highest paid police officer in the state.

During his 78-day paid suspension from all of his university capacities, the chief received his regular salary, grossing about $33,000 over that period.

The university has kept quiet on Yarbrough’s suspension and subsequent resignation. But separate complaints from officers and taped class lectures illustrate the former chief’s alleged history of employing questionable police tactics, fraud and harassment, a Collegian investigation found.

Late last month, CBI and CSU officials concluded their investigation, which sources say was prompted by issues separate from the Collegian report.

The findings of the investigation will remain sealed from the public, Frank said Friday.

“I think the frustrating part is that we’re trying to balance two things here,” he said. “The investigation is complete, but it’s part of the personnel file, and I’m not permitted to talk about it.”

But Karl Swenson, a former CSUPD lieutenant still working at CSU, says the university owes the public and the besmirched department answers.

“I guess that’s an inequitable way for the department to get rid of him and move on,” Swenson said, adding that he believes CSU officials swept the investigation’s findings under the rug.

“I think the department would probably be embarrassed, but CSU has a trust issue here. Parents are bringing their students here and trusting that they are going to be safe,” he said. “But CSU knew for years that that wasn’t the case, and they are fearful that that might come out.”

The entire campus police department needs to be reevaluated, Swenson added.

“It’s across the board — Is that traffic ticket that person received legitimate? . if ‘sometimes the police lie?’ . I think honesty is probably the best start.”

Former Police Chief Dexter Yarbrough did not return several calls and e-mails requesting comment.

‘Sometimes the

police lie’

While the university has offered no explanation of Yarbrough’s resignation and the CBI probe, tapes of his classroom lectures obtained by the Collegian — tapes later reported on by other local media — raised questions about the former chief’s policing and teaching tactics.

Audio recordings of his class lecture turned into the school’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity and former CSU President Larry Penley last year demonstrate what many allege and describe as Yarbrough’s rogue and potentially illegal police activities.

In one classroom lecture in spring 2008, Yarbrough advised his students — including many aspiring police officers — to provide illicit drugs to informants as payment for information.

“We may decide to give the informant 10 of those (crack cocaine) rocks. OK,” Yarbrough said to his criminal investigations class, for which he is additionally compensated as an adjunct instructor.

In the recording, one student sought clarification on the chief’s advice, saying:

“So if a police officer gives an informant 10 rocks of crack, and they end up in the hospital, are they responsible for it at that point? . Because I could just say the police gave it to me?”

To the student’s question, Yarbrough responded:

“Let me tell you what I would do: You give it to them, but you let them know that, hey, if you get caught with this, you know, don’t say my name. Or if they get sick or something, I never gave them those (drugs).

“Didn’t I tell you guys that sometimes the police lie? Didn’t I tell you guys that? If I didn’t, there you go.”

Yarbrough denied allegations of impropriety.

“As typical of all my courses, I attempt to give students a realistic view on how policing works — both good and bad,” Yarbrough said in a statement. “During one particular class, I was illustrating how sometimes police officers cross the line in order to catch drug dealers. In no way was I condoning the behavior, I was simply illustrating it. I have taught at CSU for over four years, and I have provided the same information in a dramatic fashion.”

The tapes were recorded by Aaron Gropp, a 38-year-old graduate student and former Larimer County Sheriff’s deputy.

Gropp said he began recording lectures after what he called “asinine” and “wrong” statements from Yarbrough, and he brought them to OEOD, which promised an investigation.

But the university gave him “the runaround,” he said, and no public action was taken against the chief under Penley’s administration.

The university closed the investigation in the fall, but details and findings of that personnel inquiry are also sealed, said Brad Bohlander, CSU’s top spokesperson.

Moving on

Frank said with Yarbrough’s departure, he will axe the position of vice president of public safety, as another administrative budget cut to combat the ailing economy, but also to have that role report directly to the president so that the new chief can focus solely on the CSUPD.

Multiple previous administrative-level officials — including Penley who abruptly resigned last semester — received substantial departing bonuses when they left the school.

But Yarbrough has signed no separation agreement with the university, nor did he receive any financial incentives to leave, Frank said, though he will receive the standard 24 days of paid vacation.

Frank, whose early tenure is marked by promises for more transparency in the wake of Penley’s contentious departure, defended the length of the investigation, saying, “The reason the investigation took as long as it did is we wanted to be thorough and complete.”

Interim CSUPD Chief Frank Johnson, who served under Yarbrough as assistant chief, will maintain that post while the university plans to begin a national search for a permanent replacement.

Enterprise Editor J. David McSwane can be reached at tips@collegian.com.

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