DENVER (CBS4) – Colorado lawmakers are hoping a new measure signed into law this year will help eliminate what one state senator calls “gypsy cops,” who are fired or forced to resign by one police department but quickly catch on with another department.
“So basically we are trying to eliminate the gypsy cop that can’t perform or is a liar,” said State Sen. John Cooke, R-Weld County, who sponsored the bill.
It requires police officers to sign a waiver which would release information to departments where they apply, allowing those departments to find out if the officer made knowing misrepresentations while employed in law enforcement.
“When you lose your credibility as a peace officer you have nothing left, and that’s when the public loses faith in you,” said Cooke, a former Weld County sheriff.
That appeared to be the case for former Denver Police Officer Abbe Dorn. After seven years with DPD her career unraveled in 2012 when she became the focus of a federal steroid investigation. According to a Denver police internal affairs investigation obtained by CBS4, two steroid dealers told investigators they supplied Dorn with steroids on multiple occasions. Both of the dealers said Dorn arranged bogus traffic stops of the dealers so she could procure steroids while she was on duty.
“(The dealer) indicated that Dorn pulled up behind him as if it was a traffic stop, walked up to his driver’s side window and they exchanged the money for steroids.”
The investigation obtained by CBS4 shows that law enforcement got Dorn’s phone calls and text messages from 2010 to 2012 as part of their probe. Dorn’s phone records showed 1,400 text messages between her and the steroid dealers and about 200 phone calls between the officer and the dealers.
But when Dorn was interviewed by police in December 2012, she said the two steroid dealers were “not familiar to her,” denied ever using steroids, said she did not recognize their pictures, and when confronted with her own phone records, she “could not explain why or how his phone number could have been observed in her phone records.”
Soon after, in June 2013, Dorn resigned from DPD writing, “I have decided to take this time to evaluate my current goals and pursue new opportunities.”
But the writing was on the wall, according to Denver Police Cmdr. Matt Murray. Murray told CBS4, “She was facing disciplinary action that likely would have resulted in termination.”
But two months later, records tracked down by CBS4 show Dorn applied to be an officer with the Cherry Hills Village Police Department. When asked on her job application why she left the Denver Police Department, Dorn wrote, “No movement in the department.” She made no mention of being a target of a steroid investigation. She also received a glowing job reference from DPD Cpt. Gerry Whitman, the former DPD Chief. Whitman emailed the Cherry Hills Village chief on his DPD email account in October 2013.
“I would like to recommend her for the position. Abbegayle worked at Denver PD for several years and I found her to be a hard worker who was liked by other department members and the community. I am NOT familiar with the situation which resulted in her resignation from our department so that circumstance does not weigh into my recommendation,” Whitman wrote.
Although Whitman claimed ignorance into what led Dorn to quit her job, the steroid investigation and her resignation were widely reported by multiple media outlets months before Whitman penned his recommendation for Dorn. Whitman did not respond to an email from CBS4 regarding his job reference for Dorn.
After conducting a background check, Cherry Hills Village did not hire Dorn, although she applied to the department again in 2014 and was again not hired. Her attorney says Dorn is no longer in law enforcement.
“These behaviors should not be tolerated and not passed around from agency to agency,” said Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, who cosponsored the bill with Cooke.
Williams said officers with backgrounds like Abbe Dorn’s do get hired which she likens to “passing the bad apple. We don’t want the bad apple to continue to serve the people of Colorado in that capacity,” said Williams.
Steve Davis, a former police chief, said he saw firsthand officers guilty of misconduct being shuffled from department to department. Davis was the chief of the rural Lochbuie police department from 2003 until 2006 and said he fired four officers for various forms of misconduct. Within a short time, Davis says all four were hired by other small police departments.
Asked how many of those departments contacted him before hiring his former officers, Davis said, “None of them called me. I was appalled by that. There are officers I got rid of that I know are working the streets today.”
Davis said smaller departments often don’t have the personnel or finances to do a proper background check and will rely on word of mouth. And many smaller departments don’t have the resources to train new officers so they hire officers who are seasoned, but may have checkered pasts.
“If you don’t do a background check on them you’re doing a disservice and putting citizens in danger,” said Davis.
The Mountain View Police Department is known as a department that has repeatedly hired officers who have been fired or forced to resign from their previous departments for various forms of misconduct. Notably, Mountain View hired former Denver Officer Randy Hurst in 2008 after he was fired by the Denver Police Department. That termination came after Hurst admitted to having sex on duty, in uniform in the bathroom of a Taco Bell restaurant with a woman he suspected was a prostitute.
“It was wrong and stupid,” Hurst told CBS4.
But he said he did nothing illegal and nobody got hurt.
“I pissed away a beautiful career,” said Hurst.
But seven months after DPD dumped him for misconduct, Mountain View hired Hurst to patrol its streets. Mountain View Police Chief Mark Toth declined to specifically discuss the Hurst hiring, but in a written statement Toth said, “The Mountain View Police Department conducts thorough pre-employment screening and testing to determine fitness for employment. No applicant is hired as a police officer without meeting the standards and guidelines set forth by the Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training Board and the Town of Mountain View personnel rules. Furthermore,” wrote Toth, “during my tenure as Chief of Police, no Mountain View Police Officer has been the subject of a media report for acting outside the scope of their authority or any violation of the law, as a result of the performance of their official duties.”
Hurst spent about five years with Mountain View but has since left and applied for other police jobs.
“I want to be the police,” said Hurst. He said one mistake “shouldn’t cost me my livelihood. I was very good at it.”
But Cooke said he was surprised anyone would hire Hurst.
“I’m shocked another agency would hire that person. They’re desperate for manpower, desperate to hire somebody,” Cooke said as Weld County sheriff. “I fired people for theft or lying and they would be fired, get their due process and another agency would hire them. If that person is undesirable at one agency they will likely do the same things they got fired for.”
For her part, Rep. Williams believes more action may be needed to weed out toxic cops. She said she is beginning discussions on creating a centralized database that would help track troubled cops and make information about their backgrounds more easily accessible.