Colorado paper seeks names of officers involved in shootings

Tuesday, March 3, 1998

The Greeley (Colo.) Tribune filed suit recently against state law enforcement officials who have declined to release of the names of officers involved in recent shootings.

During the last two years, police officers were involved in four separate shootings in the town of Greeley, 50 miles north of Denver. Each time, the Tribune has requested the responsible officer's name. And each time, law enforcement officials have declined.

“Where do police draw the line on what they're going to release and what they're not going to release?” asked Randy Bangert, the paper's city editor. “They're going to feel like they're above the law.”

Bangert said that the names aren't being publicly disclosed because “they say it's an extremely traumatic event for a police officer to go through, and identifying them publicly may cause public backlash and increase the trauma.”

“We feel like we have a good police department, but we feel like their interpretation of the law in this regard “is incorrect, Bangert said.

According to the paper's lawsuit, the Colorado Open Records Law makes it illegal to withhold the officers' names.

“In our opinion, state law says that all official actions of police are a matter of public record, and a police shooting is definitely an official action,” Bangert said.

All four shootings were ruled to be justified shootings, according to Bangert.

“So we don't think we have a trigger-happy police department,” he said. “We just worry that if they decide to disobey the law in this regard, what's to say that they will disobey the law in other respects?”

Local District Attorney Al Dominguez said: “The citizens of Greeley don't care to know the name of the police officers; it's the editorial staff who really want the names.”

Dominguez represents the agency that is investigating the police shootings. He is also listed as a defendant in the suit along with the sheriff's department. “We won't release those names because not only would it be unethical, but it's also against the public interest to have a police officer who might be harassed.”

If the Tribune loses this suit, Bangert suggests other state police agencies may follow Greeley's lead and start to withhold information such as the names and addresses of police officers cited for driving under the influence of alcohol.

A hearing is scheduled for April 20 in Weld County District Court.