By Brian Maass
DENVER (CBS4)– The Denver City Attorney’s Office apparently violated state open records law, which states knowingly withholding records is a misdemeanor, when officials either withheld or destroyed a critical document and said it did not exist. CBS4 has now obtained the document which city officials claimed was non-existent.
The newest controversy emerges from the case of Stuart Shapiro, a senior Denver city attorney who was placed on paid leave due to allegations of misconduct in the Jamal Hunter case.
The city paid Hunter $3.25 million in connection with injuries he received at the Denver city jail. Shapiro, the assistant city attorney assigned to the case, was placed on leave when the settlement was announced in July 2014.
Just over a year later, Denver City Attorney Scott Martinez sent Shapiro a 14-page letter dated August 11, 2015 terminating him citing “extremely poor judgment” in the Hunter case. After CBS4 reported on the termination, reliable sources said the city attorney reversed course and rescinded the termination within days. But when CBS4 asked for that letter in August 2015, city attorney officials claimed the document did not exist.
Nicole Holmlund, Director of Administration for the City Attorney, wrote,”There was no letter or memo or any documentation provided to Stuart Shapiro in August 2015 rescinding his termination, and thus there are no documents responsive to your request.”
The letter rescinding the termination- which the city attorney said did not exist- was obtained by CBS4 this week. Dated August 24, 2015, it was sent to Shapiro at his home address and says the previous termination notice “is hereby rescinded. Until further notice you will remain on paid administrative leave.”
Colorado’s Open Records Act states that knowingly withholding public records is a misdemeanor, and Steve Zansberg, an attorney specializing in open records law, said it appears the records show city attorney Scott Martinez’s office ran afoul of the law.
“It’s breaking the law known as the Colorado Open Records Act. Clearly this is an outright lie,” said Zansberg. “This is about as open and shut or black and white a case as I’ve seen. It’s a knowing falsehood by a government agency. That’s how serious it is. I don’t think there’s any ambiguity at all.”
Zansberg said it seemed unlikely the City Attorney’s office made an honest mistake since the letter rescinding the termination was copied to the Office of Human Resources, Records Management Division and Department and Supervisor Files.
“Catching someone in a single instance such as this of a knowing falsehood undermines their credibility on many other things. What else are they not being truthful about?” asked Zansberg.
CBS4 asked City Attorney Scott Martinez a series of questions about the letter, which his office claimed did not exist, “Your request for documents rescinding Mr. Shapiro’s termination was carefully considered. After the termination was rescinded, there was no need to retain the documents. Therefore, at the time of your request we determined there were no responsive documents.”
CBS4 asked Martinez if that meant his office intentionally destroyed the letter in question. He refused to answer the question. However public records attorney Zansberg called the explanation “another prevarication.”
He cited Colorado’s municipal records retention schedule which calls for employee disciplinary and personnel records – like the ones in the Shapiro case- to be retained for 10 years after the employee has left their job.
“Unbelievable, literally,” said Zansberg.
The newest revelation about the existence of documents that the city claimed did not exist comes as CBS4 and Watchdog.org learned that Shapiro filed a whistle-blower claim against the City of Denver saying he was disciplined, retaliated against and ostracized for reporting misconduct by higher ups in the Denver City Attorney’s Office.
In the whistle-blower claim, obtained Thursday, Shapiro maintains he did nothing wrong and was made a scapegoat for the Hunter case. The Shapiro case has proved to be an embarrassing thorn in the side for the city, as CBS4 and Watchdog.org found that not only did the city pay Shapiro roughly $250,000 for staying at home for nearly two years, but they also gave him pay raises each year, even though he had been instructed to stay home and do nothing.
Shapiro was ordered to return to work in February, two days after a CBS4 report on his latest pay raise. But even at that, the city attorney’s office told Shapiro he had to continue working from home as the city claimed it did not have office space for him.
The first hearing on Shapiro’s whistleblower claim is scheduled to be heard May 13.
Original CBS4 request for letter rescinding the Shapiro termination.
City Attorney’s response to the request.