SEVERANCE, COLO —The details may never be known surrounding the departure of a sergeant and the unpaid suspension of a police chief just one year after they helpedlaunch a new police department in a small Northern Colorado town.
However, according to the department’s interim chief, their circumstances are all related to internal issues and do not involve any citizen or citizen complaints.
Slightly more than one year after Severance — a statutory municipality located northwest of Greeley in Weld County — established its first-ever police department, Police Chief Misty Siderfin is on unpaid administrative leave and Theresa Barger, who Siderfin brought with her from the Silverthorne Police Department as a sergeant, is no longer with the department.
Former Fort Collins police officer Russell Reed, the current interim chief, told Complete Colorado their records are not subject to new laws passed under the Colorado Open Records Act last year that allow the release of police records when an officer is under investigation.
House Bill 19-1119 … “specifically states that mandatory disclosure applies only to documents ‘…related to a specific identifiable incident of alleged misconduct involving a member of the public …’” Reed said.
Reed said there were five allegations against the women, and that all five “were generated by internal sources, and from my review, they had nothing to do with an external complaint from a citizen, or more specifically alleged misconduct involving a member of the public.” They, therefore, are not subject to release under the law, said Reed
Reed added that since none of the records sought by Complete Colorado relate to official actions, release of any disciplinary investigations or actions are subject to Reed’s discretion, adding the laws calls for a “balancing test” between the privacy interests of those involved, the agency’s interest in keeping information confidential, the agency’s interest in pursuing an ongoing investigation without compromise and the public purpose served with inspection.
With regard to Siderfin, Reed said the investigation is not complete and there is no file to review at this time. It is possible Siderfin’s records will become available at the completion of the investigation.
With regard to Barger, Reed said he believes there are “strong privacy interests that militate against disclosure.” However, it appears from Reed’s disclosures that Barger’s release was related to a sensitive personal issue between her and other employees in the department.
“The investigation interviewed witnesses who provided candid information of personal nature and Sgt. Barger may have a privacy right to the information,” Reed said. “Allowing the public to unfettered access to the information … and information regarding witnesses would seriously impair the privacy interests of those parties and the willingness of those witnesses and others to participate in such investigations in the future.”
Reed said although the investigation into Barger’s “leadership and conduct” is now closed because she is no longer employed by the department, the complaints did not involve the public, the interest of the department maintaining its internal affairs process, and protecting witness’ privacy, he does not believe releasing Barger’s investigation is warranted.
“The privacy interests of Ms. Barger and of third parties are not outweighed by the limited possible interest in obtaining the private and candid information disclosed by those parties,” Reed said.
Complete Colorado will continue to follow the process of the investigation into Siderfin.