Three Grand Junction officers fired over alleged property damage
June 4, 2010
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) – Three Grand Junction police officers were fired Thursday after a department investigation found they slashed tents and bicycle tires belonging to homeless people living near the Colorado River.
Police Chief John Camper repeatedly said during a news conference that he was angry that the officers’ actions overshadowed the work that the department’s “finest officers” perform every day.
“Yet when something like this occurs, our actions are justifiably criticized and scorned,” Camper said.
Camp said that the department’s investigation concluded the officers’ actions had “no useful law enforcement purpose.”
He said he is concerned about a growing “transient problem in this community” but that what the three officers are accused of doing will undermine any steps the department takes to address the issue and that their efforts would “likely be viewed as either vindictive or pandering.”
The fired officers are 35-year-old Phillip Van Why, 31-year-old Justin Roberts, and 28-year-old Joseph Mulcahy. The officers had been on paid administrative leave since May 7.
Mulcahy told The Associated Press he had no comment, and phone numbers for Roberts and Van Why were not listed.
Camper said Mesa County prosecutors will not pursue criminal charges, in part because of a lack of witnesses. He said that while the officers spoke to department officials who conducted the investigation, they were not required to talk to prosecutors.
The district attorney’s office said some of the victims declined to cooperate.
“There were no witnesses to the incident, and without the benefit of the officers making statements to the criminal investigators, the case would be very difficult to prove,” Camper said. He added that the department had “more than sufficient information to show cause for termination.”
Camper said the incident occurred May 3 while they were trying to find a man at the homeless camp who a detective wanted to interview for a metal theft case. He said there was no warrant for the man.
Two other officers who were not at the scene but overheard comments about what happened are also being disciplined because they did not quickly report what they heard, Camper said. Police did not disclose their names or the nature of their discipline.
The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported that the department began the investigation after a local homeless advocate filed a complaint.
The police department later donated 11 tents to replace the damaged ones.
“If we damage the property of another, whether on purpose or accidentally, repairing or replacing that property is simply the right thing to do,” Camper said.