DENVER (CBS4)– A hearing officer for Denver’s Civil Service Commission has ruled an appeal hearing for a Denver Officer fired for sexual misconduct should be closed to the media and public because “an open hearing would devolve into a media circus,” wrote hearing officer Hazel Hanley.
In an order dated July 8, Hanley ruled the two day appeal of officer Stephanie Southard, set for July 17 and 18 , will be off limits to reporters and members of the public “in its entirety.”
A CBS4 Investigation in May revealed that the city fired Southard, an eight-year veteran of the patrol division, and her married boyfriend resigned, after he admitted the two had sex while they were both on duty “approximately 25-30 times” over the course of a year and a half.
Southard was axed for violating three department rules including sexual misconduct and lying about having sex on duty. Her boyfriend, Officer Nathan Sanchez, resigned after he admitted the sexual contact with Southard while both were on the clock.
Karla Pierce with the Denver City Attorney’s office told CBS4, “It’s really rare” for an appeals hearing to be closed. The City of Denver objected to the closure said Pierce. “It should be public. It’s been in the news already. In our mind it should be public.”
Southard’s attorney, Sean Olson, agreed that it was rare to close an appeal hearing but he said he concurred with the hearing officer’s decision, “based on the sensitive nature of the allegations.”
According to an internal affairs investigation obtained by CBS4, “Officer Sanchez stated that ‘approximately 25-30 times’ he had unzipped Officer Southard’s uniform pants while they were both on duty” and proceeded to have sexual contact.
Officer Southard denied the on duty sex ever occurred. But Denver’s Deputy Director of Safety, Jess Vigil, ruled that Sanchez was “credible” and that Sanchez and Southard “engaged in repeated sexual conact while on duty.”
In her four page ruling, hearing officer Hanley said she was closing the hearing partly because of Southard’s “past and current mental state” and the pain that would be inflicted on the wife of Officer Sanchez, who discovered the affair and is expected to testify.
“The Hearing Officer intends to conduct a hearing where she can consider the evidence and observe the demeanor of the witnesses, without having her attention interrupted by the observers and without having to halt the proceedings to monitor the observers to ascertain no one is using a recording device or taking pictures,” wrote Hanley.
“We disagree,” said Pierce, “and filed a formal objection.”
Daelene Mix, a spokesperson for Denver’s Manager of Safety, said her department also felt the hearing should be open.
“The Department of Safety has consistently showcased its commitment to transparency in recent years, and it was in that spirit that Executive Director Stephanie O’Malley objected to the closing of the Southard hearing.”