Aspen Police chief wasn’t ready to fire officer in taser incident
ASPEN – Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson was not ready to fire a police officer for using a Taser on a 63-year-old homeless woman last month. However, City Manager Steve Barwick took the information from the independent investigation and handed Officer Melinda Calvano her walking papers. “I made a recommendation to Steve – I support his decision – but my recommendation was slightly different,” said Ryerson, who suggested a fitness-for-duty evaluation by a psychologist to see if there was a way to keep her on the force. “I was still looking for information. Steve was done looking for more information.”June news reports of the incident were not complete because police couldn’t comment. But the release of the investigation and related documents Friday shows a different, more complex picture of the Taser incident. That picture is of Calvano’s early-morning June 7 encounter with an aggressive, larger woman who threatened her with a stick. Documents state that there were many other times during the confrontation when the use of a Taser would have been more reasonable. In the end, however, Barwick based his choice on community values and on the “philosophy and mission statement of the Aspen Police Department.” The that respect for community values was deeply felt at the police department the day after the news of Calvano’s firing.”The police department is made up of people whose values collectively reflect the values of the community,” said Sgt. Steve Smith. “I’m not just acting on behalf of the police department, I’m acting on behalf of the community. It’s a collective-value system.”He went on to say that investigations like this are never easy.”We have to walk a tightrope,” he said. “[The investigation] was done rightfully by an outside agency. It’s critical to be impartial.” Members of the Aspen and Basalt police departments stood by the use of Tasers and by the training officers receive in using Tasers and other “intermediate weapons” such as pepper spray and the baton. “I look back [at] my days in New York, and the training here is terrific,” said Smith, who has used a Taser twice as an officer here. “The number of physical altercations we get in has dropped dramatically since we got Tasers.”Keith Ikeda, the police chief in Basalt, which also uses Tasers, said the weapons have revolutionized officer safety.”It’s a tool like any other tool,” Ikeda said. “You still need sound judgment when to deploy, the same with a gun, the same with a baton, the same with pepper spray. That’s what we try to train the officers on, is to exercise sound judgment.”Both Smith and Ikeda mentioned the excellence of training in the Roaring Fork Valley – where Aspen, Basalt and Snowmass Village police, and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, have teamed up to offer comprehensive training during the past 20 years. That training, with quarterly qualifications, involves such things as driving in the snow, shooting in the cold, physical restraint, officer survival training, speaking to a combative person and handling dangerous situations.”I think it’s probably one of the premier programs in the country,” Ikeda said. “That’s our highest-liability area, use of force. On a quarterly basis we look at firearms, defensive tactics. You can see overall that we have very few use of force complaints against our police agencies compared to police forces around the country and around the state.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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