Aspen Police chief under scrutiny
Former Aspen patrol officer Renee Rayton was interviewed by an outside investigator last week as part of a probe into Police Chief Loren Ryerson, who is on administrative leave, according to sources close to the investigation.Rayton, now a Pitkin County Sheriff’s deputy, was unavailable for comment at her home Tuesday evening. An investigator with the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency, which serves as the city’s risk manager, launched an investigation into Ryerson last month. An investigator was seen interviewing law-enforcement officers in City Hall last week. The subject matter of those interviews is unclear; however, sources who asked to remain anonymous have said that the probe concerns Ryerson’s approach to management. The impetus for the probe apparently was borne out of a common theme noticed in exit interviews from former APD employees, who were critical of Ryerson’s style.A CIRSA spokeswoman declined to comment on the investigation and referred all questions to City Manager Steve Barwick, who also declined to comment, saying it’s a personnel issue.Ryerson was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.Meanwhile, Barwick, the City Council and Jim True, special counsel for the city, met behind closed doors Tuesday afternoon to discuss the investigation.While several unnamed sources have confirmed that the investigation centers around sexual harassment allegations, CIRSA’s probe ultimately will determine if Ryerson was involved in improper conduct. CIRSA could wrap up its investigation by as early as this week.Assistant chief Richard Pryor, who is currently acting police chief, spent Monday and Tuesday talking to staff members individually, informing them of Ryerson’s indefinite leave. Department morale did not appear to be eroding, with most staffers reserving judgment until the investigation plays out. Michelle McClinton, an APD customer service officer, said she supports Ryerson and his forced absence “came out of the blue.” APD Sgt. Linda Consuegra said Pryor left a message on her phone Monday night informing her of the changes in the department. She just had returned from a vacation in Mexico.”We’re all trying to absorb it,” she said, adding she supports Ryerson. “You take under consideration who you are going to work for and I’ve been here three years. I love working here.”The current investigation of Ryerson’s conduct is not the first time he has been accused of improprieties.At least two former female APD employees say that sexual harassment occurred in the department when they worked there.A former Aspen assistant police chief, Becky Blaine, said this week that she was aware of stories involving alleged acts of sexual harassment against women in the department, and that she has experienced one such advance.”There is a history,” said Blaine, who now works for the Butte County Sheriff’s Office in California.”I personally experienced something with Loren, and cut him off at the knees, and that was all there was to it,” she continued, declining to give details except to say it was “a verbal advance that I cut off and that’s where it ended.”The incident happened when Ryerson was a sergeant in the department, Blaine said.She said the “culture of the department” was to do nothing about such matters. She stressed that the encounter with Ryerson was not the reason she left the APD in 1998.Another former female officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said: “It’s been an ongoing problem for at least a decade.”The ex-officer said while she was not sexually harassed by Ryerson, she was aware that other female officers felt uncomfortable at times around Ryerson, both when he was a police chief and patrol officer. Ryerson joined the APD in 1984 and became police chief in December 2001.Blaine noted with some irony that she recently attended a conference of sheriff’s officers at Lake Tahoe, Nev., where she had just come from a seminar on ethics. She said an instructor at the conference remarked that with sexual harassment issues “there’s this pattern to put it under the rug. And one day somebody’s knocking at your door and saying, ‘What the hell is that smell?’ because it just sits under there and rots.”Concerning her own experience at the APD, she said, “There was an awareness, and it was not addressed.”As for the investigation into Ryerson’s conduct, she said, if the accusations are borne out, “I guess karma has caught up with chief Ryerson.”
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