CSUPD CHIEF RESIGNS

 Abuse of Power  Comments Off on CSUPD CHIEF RESIGNS
Mar 092009
 

By 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.

Former CSUPD Police Chief Dexter Yarbrough

Former CSUPD Police Chief Dexter Yarbrough

“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.

Embattled chief faces CBI probe

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Jan 232009
 

By J. David McSwane

Suspended CSU Police Chief Dexter Yarbrough appeared before a three-person investigative committee at Fort Collins Police headquarters Thursday afternoon to hear numerous complaints against him and to provide his own testimony, sources close to the investigation said.

Yarbrough was suddenly put on paid administrative leave and escorted off campus Dec. 19 and was stripped of his firearm and cruiser. In addition to his duties as chief, he was promoted last year to vice president of Public Safety where he collects a $156,000-a-year salary.

yarbrough_cbi

Media Credit: Brandon Iwamoto Suspended CSU Police Chief Dexter Yarbrough walks from the parking lot to the Fort Collins Police Department at 2221 Timberline Rd. on Thursday afternoon.

The embattled chief attended the closed-door meeting at 2 p.m., sources said, but when reporters on scene asked why he was there, he said, “just visiting.”

Citing state personnel laws, university officials haven’t released details on the inquiry headed by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation or unrelated allegations against the chief of fraud, harassment and delivering several questionable and alarming class lectures.

In taped classroom lectures, which were picked up by Denver media outlets after a Collegian report, Yarbrough advised students in a criminal investigations class to provide illicit drugs as payment to informants, to cut corners in police work and condoned the use of excessive force against suspects.

Aaron Gropp, the 38-year-old graduate student and formerLarimer County Sheriff’s Deputy who recorded the lectures, said he’s weighing the possibility of filing a lawsuit against CSU or Yarbrough for the chief’s recent statements to reporters.

“The student that is providing the tapes was not doing very well in my class and has taken my lecture out of context in an attempt to retaliate against me,” Yarbrough said in an e-mail.

Gropp said he plans to talk with an attorney to see if the statement was in violation of The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which bars public schools and its administrators from commenting on or releasing a student’s academic records.

“After everything I’ve been through, I would love to sue CSU at this point,” Gropp said.

Gropp, a former police officer, maintains he did not take the chief’s statements out of context and that when he brought the alarming evidence to CSU administration he was given “the runaround.”

Brad Bohlander, CSU’s top spokesperson confirmed the university investigated Gropp’s complaint and concluded its investigation in the fall but declined further comment because of FERPA. No public action was taken against the chief after the investigation.

“We may decide to give the informant 10 of those (crack cocaine) rocks. OK,” Yarbrough said in one tape.

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.”

But Yarbrough says the tapes have been blown out of proportion.

“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.”

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

Suspended chief refutes allegations

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Jan 222009
 

By J. David McSwane

Suspended CSU Police Chief Dexter Yarbrough refutes that he delivered several questionable and alarming lectures Wednesday and lashed back at the student who recorded his statements, which were detailed in this newspaper on Tuesday.

Yarbrough – the highest paid police chief in the state at $156,000 a year – was suddenly put on paid administrative leave Dec. 19 for separate, apparently unrelated allegations, school officials said.

Citing strict personnel laws, details about the suspension and an ongoing inquiry headed by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation haven’t been divulged.

In the audio, which was picked up by Denver media outlets after a Collegian report, Yarbrough advised students in a classroom to provide illicit drugs as payment to informants, to cut corners in police work and condoned the use of excessive force against suspects.

“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.”

But the audio – snippets totaling about 28 minutes in length – was taken out of context, Yarbrough says. The Collegian was not provided and has not reviewed the full recordings from the class lectures in question.

“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 4 [four] years, and I have provided the same information in a dramatic fashion.”

Yarbrough, along with nine other professors on campus, won the Best Teacher of the Year Award in 2007, and in anonymous and unofficial evaluations the CSU teacher evaluation site, RamRatings.com, received top scores.

But Aaron Gropp, the 38-year-old graduate student and former Larimer County Sheriff’s Deputy who recorded the lectures, said he began recording the lectures after the chief told student in the class, “Women want the dick, even when they say ‘no.’ They want the dick.”

In response to allegations of sexist comments in the classroom, Yarbrough said: “In no way was I purposely being sexist towards women. I was simply illustrating points in the class. I have always been a big supporter of women, as well as diversity, inside and outside the classroom.”

But Yarbrough accused Gropp of purposefully taking the statements out of context to “retaliate” because the student wasn’t happy with his grade.

Gropp, who received an incomplete for the course, maintains that the audio was not taken out of context.

“What a liar,” he said simply Wednesday night.

Yarbrough defended his teaching style and declined to comment further about several allegations against him from officers under his command.

“I won Best Teacher of Year in 2007,” Yarbrough said. “I don’t do that (by condoning) illegal behavior.”

CORRECTION:
In Tuesday’s Collegian, an article titled “Abuse of Power” implied that CSUPD Sgt. Edward Bozic changed or replaced a filed police report in which Chief Dexter Yarbrough’s cruiser had sustained damage. After interviews with Bozic, other police officers and a review of the incident reports, the Collegian has found this to be incorrect. Yarbrough ordered Bozic to file an accidental damage report. When Bozic inspected the damage, however, he determined that the report should be filed as a traffic accident report in which the chief was believed to be responsible for the damage. When Bozic approached Yarbrough, he said, the chief was displeased with the findings and ordered him to file it differently. “I did not file an accidental damage report,” Bozic said Wednesday. “I didn’t do anything the chief wanted me to do. I was actually the one who blew the whistle on this.” Bozic filed one report, a “hit and run” report still available in CSUPD records, the Collegian confirmed. Swenson filed a later report charging the chief with being responsible for the accident, concluding that the cruiser had struck a rock or curb. That report was separate from Bozic’s on Tuesday. The Collegian regrets the error.

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

ABUSE OF POWER Tapes, officers say Yarbrough used questionable tactics

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Jan 202009
 
Former CSUPD Police Chief Dexter Yarbrough

Former CSUPD Police Chief Dexter Yarbrough

By J. David McSwane

While the sudden suspension of CSU Police Chief Dexter Yarbrough last month came as another shocking challenge facing a transitioning administration, several campus officers say his absence comes as a breath of fresh air to the department — putting what several independent sources called his “reign of terror” on hiatus.

Listing numerous accusations of improprieties ranging from falsifying police documents, to mandating the special treatment of student athletes, to teaching students illegal police tactics, several timid police officers say the President’s Office had plenty of alarming evidence to take action long ago but turned a blind eye to a handful of alleged abuses of power.

Barred by state personnel law, the university hasn’t released any information about Yarbrough’s paid administrative leave and an ongoing investigation headed by Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

But evidence delivered to top administration and later obtained by the Collegian shows CSU kept many of the chief’s questionable dealings quiet for years.

Despite a consistent flow of complaints of harassment, fraud and threatening behavior to the school’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity (OEOD) and to former CSU President Larry Penley, Yarbrough was promoted last year to vice president of public safety in addition to being chief of police.

He was handsomely rewarded with a $156,000-a-year salary, easily making him the highest paid law enforcement officer in the state.

Both the university and sources close to the investigation confirmed that the inquiry stemmed from “fresh” complaints from within CSUPD.

However, Yarbrough’s history of alleged misbehavior and questionable treatment of officers and students called him to answer to OEOD and the district attorney throughout his tenure.

Crack, sex and violence

Audio recordings of his class lecture turned into OEOD and Penley last year demonstrate what many allege and describe as the chief’s rogue and potentially illegal police tactics.

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).

Click to see PDF

Click to see PDF

“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.”

In another recording, Yarbrough alluded that sometimes police should cut corners because “if you want the police to play fair, the police can play fair. OK. But watch out when you go out at night, and watch your crime rates go up. The police can play fair. Do you really want the police to do that?”

In a later lecture, the chief, who was a Chicago policeman prior to entering academia, said sometimes excessive and violent force against a suspect is a “reality of law enforcement.”

“If there’s a news conference going on, I can’t get in front of a crowd and say. ‘He got exactly what the f*** he deserved.’ You know the police should have beat him, you know. I used to beat ass when I was in Chicago, too. I can’t say that.

“I’d have to say, ‘Well, you know we’re going to have to look into this matter seriously … all of our officers, we like to think that they operate with the utmost integrity and ethics … All of that sh** sounds good. That sh** sounds real good, but in the back of my mind, damn. He got popped. If he would have done it the way we used to do it in Chi town (Chicago), man, none of this sh** would have happened.”

Larimer County District Attorney Larry Abrahamson says providing drugs to informants is never acceptable, regardless of the outcome for a police investigation.

“I would certainly look at it in this jurisdiction very suspiciously,” Abrahamson said. “There is no legal defense for that transaction, and I know that our local law enforcement does not condone that sort of activity.”

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, including what he thought to be sexual harassment and possible admission of criminal culpability.

“He constantly said things that were illegal,” Gropp said. “… I was flabbergasted. He just completely dissolved and undermined the credibility of every officer at CSU.”

The lecture that inspired him to gather recordings, Gropp said, was one in which he says Yarbrough told the class “women want the dick, even when they say ‘no.’ They want the dick.”

“In my book he just kind of condoned rape,” Gropp said. “I was just floored … that was when I decided to start recording things and file a complaint.”

Gropp brought his collection of recorded lectures along with complaints from other students in the class to OEOD, but no public action was taken against Yarbrough.

The university, Gropp said, gave him “the run around,” and he stopped attending class after Yarbrough was informed of the inquiry, which the university closed in the fall.

The university has offered Gropp an alternative assignment to complete the course.

Citing a personnel investigation in cooperation with the CBI, CSU officials haven’t provided details as to why the chief was suspended indefinitely Dec. 19 and escorted out of his department while students were away on break.

A top university spokesperson confirmed that the current investigation is not related to the student’s tapes or other previous allegations.

“All of the findings and results, including any potential actions taken by the previous university administration in response to the findings of that investigation, are closed per state statute,” said spokesman Brad Bohlander in an e-mail.

Dissension in the ranks

Officers interviewed credited the chief for robustly increasing the department’s budget, allowing for much-needed equipment like new cruisers and rifles but said they weren’t surprised by Yarbrough’s in-class comments.

“He says things in that class that ex-cons don’t even write about,” said one officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid potential backlash from Yarbrough and CSU. “Yarbrough made us look bad. The reason no one came forward was Yarbrough would punish you — visibly.”

Since his arrival in September 2003, Yarbrough quickly established a culture of oppression, fear and intimidation within his ranks and drove out anyone who challenged him, sources said.

Lt. Karl Swenson, a campus bomb expert and former CSUPD officer, was one of those people who crossed the chief.

When Yarbrough’s police cruiser sustained damage to its front end in March of 2005, he asked Swenson and another officer, Sgt. Edward Bozic, to file a report as a hit and run, police reports and e-mails indicate.

But upon inspection of the damage, Swenson, a trained accident reconstructionist for the department, determined that the damage was consistent with the operator of the vehicle hitting a curb or rock — a structure very similar to a scuffed rock just outside Clark A where Yarbrough parked to teach his class.

After looking into the matter, Swenson wrote his police report — that Yarbrough had hit something and was not the victim of a hit and run — and approached the chief about the incident, but the chief told him not to investigate any further.

Yarbrough then ordered Bozic to write a separate report, which was filed in lieu of Swenson’s report, sources say.

“The chief ordered Bozic to change it until it fit,” one officer said. “That screams of corruption. We don’t even have internal investigations … in those incidents, (Yarbrough) had so much power over his subordinates … he could do whatever he wanted, and the President’s Office wouldn’t listen, and the vice president wouldn’t listen.”

But Swenson kept a copy of the original report and took it along with a summation, photos and an e-mail exchange to DA Abrahamson’s office, where it was swiftly evaluated and thrown out.

“We reviewed the report, looked at it and determined at that time that it wasn’t something that was necessarily criminal in nature,” Abrahamson said. “I know Karl was concerned that we look at it. There were allegations that the report was falsified.”

Sources say Yarbrough then systematically drove Swenson out of the department by eliminating his duties and, at one point, attempting to turn his office into a storage closet before ultimately banning him from the building.

“He’s run off damn near everybody who was in the organization when he arrived,” said another officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In another instance, an officer making a routine arrest from a bank of active warrants was publicly reprimanded for arresting a student athlete without first discussing it with the chief, sources said. The chief took over the investigation and changed policy to provide special treatment for student athletes.

After the incident, officers pursuing warrants must first call dispatch to ask if the student’s name is listed on the roster, which Yarbrough ordered to be kept in dispatch, sources say.

Bohlander said CSU in no way condones the special treatment of student athletes and declined further comment on the allegations.

In a separate issue, an officer who filed a complaint with the university against CSUPD received a settlement and was relocated to another department, according to a seven-page settlement obtained through Colorado’s open records laws.

Cpl. Veronica Olivas agreed to a settlement in January of 2008 to not pursue legal action against CSU and, specifically, Assistant Chief Frank Johnson. Olivas signed a confidentiality agreement, barring Johnson and her from commenting on the issue. Olivas relocated to Housing, where the university agreed to pay her a salary of $66,000.

‘The wicked witch is dead’

In addition to the five or so complaints to the university, sources said, Yarbrough routinely exercised autonomous and discomforting rule of the flow of information to the media and commandeered CSUPD facilities.

By the time of his suspension, the chief utilized three separate offices, two of which were the former resources library — filled with criminal procedure and law books — and the conference room.

Yarbrough’s eventual acquisition of the conference room was never justified to the staff and left officers with only holding cells and interrogations rooms to interview victims of crime, sources said.

“The sun rose on the police department that was free from intimidation, manipulation and corruption,” one officer said of the news that Yarbrough was suspended. “This isn’t an agency that does this — it’s a man.”

Another officer, weeks prior to the announcement of Yarbrough’s suspension told the Collegian, “I feel like I’m working for a criminal. People are afraid. What he is and what the officers are is two different things.”

Once using phrases like “reign of terror” and “juvenile” to describe the CSUPD work environment, that officer now says, “The wicked witch is dead.”

An officer close to the current investigation says of the complaints being reviewed:

“Everything that led up to his suspension was done quietly, secretly and in about the course of four to six weeks. All the new information was enough to get him suspended.”

University officials say CBI’s involvement in the investigation reflects a desire to have an objective look into the personnel complaints, but the officer also said the school requested the bureau’s assistance when it was clear that the “possibility of criminal culpability was there.”

The investigation committee, which includes OEOD Director Dana Hiatt, delivered an official copy of complaints to Yarbrough Monday, officers questioned by the committee said.

Interim President Tony Frank, who suspended Yarbrough after only a short time at the CSU helm, has promised a speedy investigation but declined further comment, citing an ongoing personnel investigation.

A report in the Maroon, the University of Chicago’s student newspaper, indicated that Yarbrough might have applied for a similar post there. The article has since been removed from the paper’s Web site. Reporters there have not returned calls from the Collegian.

Yarbrough did not return calls and e-mails from the Collegian over three weeks time.

Bozic and Penley did not return calls made by the Collegian.

This story originally printed in The Rocky Mountain Collegian on Jan. 20, 2009.