DENVER (CBS4) – Denver Police Sgt. Benita Packard, who omitted critical facts in the DUI stop of former Colorado Rep. Laura Kay Bradford, has agreed to accept a demotion to the rank of patrol officer in the face of termination.
“I did recommend termination looking at the entire case,” Chief Robert White told CBS4.
But after consulting with Manager of Safety Alex Martinez, the public safety leaders amended that recommendation, deciding Packard should be allowed to stay with Denver Police Department, although in a non-supervisory role.
“Demotion is a substantial penalty,” Martinez said. “It is the result of an agreement with her, with which the chief concurs, that will forgo lengthy litigation and allow the department to retain an otherwise experienced and trained officer at an entry level position. Pursuant to this agreement, if Packard has any further disciplinary violations in the following year, she will be terminated.”
The demotion will mean a reduction in salary from $89,301 per year to $74,691.
Packard, who has been with the Denver Police Department since 1982, was a supervisor involved in the DUI stop of Rep. Bradford on Jan. 25. Patrolman Brian Klaus called Packard for assistance after he pulled over the state legislator in the 1700 block of Pennsylvania Street.
Klaus reported Bradford nearly hit a parked car. He said the state lawmaker smelled of alcohol and did poorly on a field sobriety test. Klaus later said that Packard told him “not to do a DUI short form nor was I supposed to write on the traffic citation that she was intoxicated.”
Bradford was cited only for making an illegal lane change and careless driving. Packard found a handgun and magazine under the seat of Bradford’s car. But instead of confiscating the handgun, Packard handed the gun and magazine back to Bradford before allowing a taxi to drive her home. Klaus said that “Sgt. Packard told me to keep the handgun part of the stop quiet and only we would know.”
According to an internal investigation of the traffic stop, Packard neglected to mention the gun to her superior officers or mention it in a written report.
Possessing a gun while intoxicated is a violation of Colorado law and Denver Police Department policy. According to documents obtained during the CBS4 investigation, Packard never told her supervisors about the gun until nearly a week later, after she was confronted during an internal affairs investigation. When asked why she omitted information about the gun, Packard said she had “‘spaced it out’ or forgotten.”
In disciplinary documents, the manager of safety wrote that “her failure to disclose the information was not forgetfulness but instead, was a conscious effort to conceal her actions in returning a firearm to a visibly intoxicated individual.”
Technically, Denver’s police chief and manager of safety fired Packard for commission of a deceptive act, suspended her for 30 days for making misleading or inaccurate statements and suspended the sergeant for another 10 days for “conduct prejudicial,” and fined her 48 hours for two other rule violations.
However, under the negotiated agreement, as of Sept. 13, Packard was busted to the rank of patrol officer and will serve a 10-day suspension. The termination and other disciplinary actions will be “held in abeyance” for 12 months and will only be imposed if Packard commits any further rule violations in the next year that are sustained.
Explaining the settlement, Martinez wrote, “Packard did not overtly lie about the facts or circumstances, but only about her reason for not mentioning the circumstances involving the gun. Further, she had severe personal circumstances that make her conduct more understandable, although not excusable. Finally, she has no significant prior discipline.”
Contacted earlier this year about the case, Packard told CBS4, “I’ve got nothing to say.”
Martinez told CBS4 he was concerned that if he fired Packard, she might appeal and get her job back.
“I want to be real clear,” Martinez said. “I am concerned this would be overturned by a hearing officer. What cannot be tolerated is her being returned to us after two years of litigation from Civil Service and her being reinstated back as a sergeant.”
Martinez said he believes Bradford lied about why she never mentioned the firearm, but he said it was a “close call and not something I can clearly disprove.” Martinez and White believe the demotion is the best outcome for the department, the public, and Packard.
Days after the Bradford traffic stop, Packard told officers under her supervision that she would find out who had talked to the media and “lop their head off. The media isn’t our friend, why would you think that they’re our friend?”
– Written by Brian Maass for CBSDenver.com