DENVER (KDVR) – A measure meant to keep troubled police officers from being re-hired by another agency does not track all cases, a Problem Solvers investigation has found.
Take the case of Denver Deputy Waylon Lolotai, who was accused of excessive force. Surveillance video at the jail shows Lolotai push an inmate backwards into a staircase.
An internal affairs case lingered for 18 months and Lolotai quit in June 2016 when a decision was about to be made. A month later he took a job with Boulder police.
Lolotai would later faces use-of-force complaints in Boulder after video showed pushing a woman backwards, her head nearly hitting a light pole.
Lolotai is the same Boulder officer who arrested Sammie Lawrence and confiscated his walking aid when Lawrence started recording video of the officer confronting homeless people in a park.
Denise Maes is the public policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado who helped push for a database to be included in the new state police accountability law.
“These officers just keep going from one place to the next,” she said.
Starting in 2023, the measures will require all law enforcement agencies to report to the state every officer who has been fired for misconduct.
“This is about tracking individuals who resign while they’re under investigation as well,” Maes said.
The ACLU said tracking resignations is important because some police officers simply resign and go to another department if they think they are about to be punished or fired.
Denver Police Department Chief Paul Pazen said departments across the state also need to really vet resumes.
“I think it’s incumbent upon departments to do their very best including background checks to make sure they get the best and brightest,” he said.
The Problem Solvers asked several law enforcement agencies through a records request: How many officers since the start of 2019 were fired or quit while under investigation?
The retirement of Paul O’Keefe from Aurora Police could be tied to another officer’s wrong-doing.
O’Keefe was the deputy chief who decided not to investigate Nathan Meier for driving under the influence while on duty.
You may recall the video showing Meier passed out in his patrol car with the engine running. O’Keefe retired five days before Aurora police opened an internal affairs investigation on Feb. 12, 2020 that might have held O’Keefe accountable.
While the word terminated may cause agencies to dig a little deeper, officers who resign are not included in the state’s new database.
In Denver in the last 18 months, four officers were fired and four resigned. One of those officers is Joseph Rodarte, who retired. Body camera video shows Sgt. Rodarte breaking a teenager’s bones with his baton. Internal affairs investigated for eight months but on June 3, 2020 Rodarte retired before a decision to terminate him could be issued.
The Problem Solvers discovered a loophole, finding the former officer’s name will not be added to the tracking database because he retired.
“I guess we never thought of retirement, but now I can see that could be an issue,” Maes said.
The ACLU told the Problem Solvers it may ask lawmakers to close that loophole next year.
Departments can start collecting and submitting statistics to the state, but the data will not be required for three years.