Denver Mayor Won’t Discipline Police Chief Over Chase, Records Request

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said on Monday he will not discipline Denver Police Chief Robert White for two separate incidents in 2016 and 2017 involving a high-speed car chase and the mishandling of an open records request.

But Hancock called for White to use more professionalism and ordered his Department of Public Safety Director Troy Riggs to overhaul the way the department handles open records requests.

The mayor came to the conclusion after two internal investigations.

“The chief should have exercised more professionalism in these instances, but his conduct did not rise to the level of discipline,” Hancock said in a statement.

The decisions settle long-simmering controversies in the Denver Police Department and questions about whether Hancock was going to take action against his beleaguered police chief.

White issued a statement after Hancock’s decision on Monday saying the investigations have been hard on the department -- and him personally.

“Although I was confident the facts would ultimately support no wrong-doing on my part, stories void of these important facts have impugned my reputation for more than a year,” he said. “It has been a difficult time.”

One of the incidents was over a botched open records request almost two years ago involving a spat between the then Denver district attorney and the deputy police chief.

In 2016, a Denver police officer was accused of sexual assault. A man and a woman were arrested, but then Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey declined to file charges. In a letter, Morrissey accused deputy police chief Matt Murray of mishandling the investigation. Chief White responded in a separate correspondence that he would look into it.

Several months later, the Denver Police Protective Association filed an open records request about the incidents and didn’t receive this correspondence. It was only after a Denver television station reported on the existence of the exchanges between Morrissey and Murray did the police department acknowledge the letters.

“That should not have happened as we value being open and transparent,” Hancock said, in a statement. “I have asked (Public Safety) Executive Director Riggs to develop a rigorous formal, written records request policy for the Department of Public Safety that clearly sets forth process and communication responsibilities.”

There is still an ongoing probe into Murray’s actions.

The other part of the internal investigation into White involved a hit and run and a high-speed car chase in September of 2017. White was driving in his department car, when a driver ran a stop sign and struck his car. The driver fled the scene.

White, according to the mayor’s office, had to reorient himself and then he pulled a U-turn to try and get a license plate number.

A few blocks away, White arrived at the scene of another accident where the driver who hit his vehicle had then collided with another car at a high speed.

Investigators probed whether White violated policies related to pursuing vehicles and inappropriate conduct -- since White was hesitant to answer questions about the accident to Aurora dispatch, according to the internal investigation report. He kept asking to be transferred to a Denver supervisor and noted that there were “about a thousand” Aurora police officers on scene.

Hancock’s statement noted, “When considering this situation, it’s important to remember that Chief White was one of the victims in this criminal incident. He did not choose his words wisely, but he didn’t violate any department policies.”