Brusig investigation affidavits remain sealed
Police investigation reports still remain sealed seven months after an ex-Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts employee was charged with misdemeanor theft related to her former employment with the organization.
Christina Brusig, former executive director of the local arts center, was charged with the crime in November 2017, after police conducted a months-long investigation into the organization’s finances and following a city audit looking into the situation.
But documents outlining the investigation’s findings are still kept a secret, essentially leaving the public in the dark about the findings that led to criminal charges involving public funds.
Ninth District Attorney Jeff Cheney told the Post Independent Wednesday that Brusig was not arrested; rather, she was issued a summons, or a ticket, and then ordered to turn herself into the court.
He said an arrest affidavit is only made available when a suspect is arrested, and since Brusig was issued a ticket, there’s no investigation report, per se, delineating all the facts and allegations in the case.
However, Cheney and Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson both mentioned that documents in the case are sealed to avoid tainting a jury pool, a comment that suggests some investigation report does in fact exist.
A Garfield County court clerk could produce only a summons ticket issued to Brusig, and said there was no investigation report available in the court’s system.
Given the difference in statements, it is still unclear if the reports in fact exist or if they’re sealed as part of the official court record.
Law enforcement officials are required to submit a police report at the start of an investigation, outlining allegations, and offering possible proof before a suspect is charged, according to the Criminal Justice Institute’s School of Law Enforcement Supervision.
Public documents are used for myriad reasons, for insurance claims, for spotting and combating criminal trends. But they are also expected to chronicle the reasons a suspect’s personal freedoms should be taken away and they further safeguard the accused from potential police misconduct, according to information contained on the CJI website.
The Post Independent, in a November 2017 article after the charges were filed against Brusig, questioned authorities as to why the investigation report was being kept secret.
“We did study the case very hard,” Cheney said at the time. “I had several prosecutors look at it, [and] had an investigator [along with a police detective] do a lot of follow-up. And our decision after all that follow-up was that we had probable cause to file a misdemeanor.”
Cheney also indicated that, because there was a lack of oversight on the part of the Arts Center board regarding how money was spent, it’s unclear whether proper authority was given.
“That was a big deal in this case,” and “made the case complicated in some respects,” he said.
Earlier this spring, Cheney and Deputy DA Jill Edinger, prosecutors in the case, offered Brusig what’s called a restorative justice agreement. The deal gives an accused person the option to perform various tasks like community service and paying fines, instead of going to trial or entering a plea deal.
For Brusig, it means writing letters of apology to the community, completing 50 hours of community service, and paying a $2,000 fine to the district attorney, among other tasks.
Edinger said the idea of a restorative justice agreement is to give an accused person the opportunity to rebuild ties to their community, adding that if the tasks aren’t completed by Aug. 31, the case will go to trial.
The sealing of the investigation reports and the issuing of a special deal raises questions around the secrecy of the case after a situation that caused Glenwood’s only arts center to be closed after serving the community for more than 35 years.
Brusig was charged on Nov. 3 of last year with Class 1 misdemeanor theft, which statute defines as theft of between $750 and $2,000, punishable by up to 18 months in jail and up to $5,000 in fines.
The center’s board allegedly first confronted her in January 2017 with concerns about mismanagement of the nonprofit’s finances.
Eventually the board told her that she could either resign or be terminated, according to Kate McRaith, the former art center board president.
McRaith said last August that Brusig had consistently presented a positive picture of the organization’s finances. But, after her departure in early April, the board started finding hard numbers on the art center’s debt and unpaid bills.
The city of Glenwood Springs, which partially funded the Center for the Arts, paid Brusig’s salary, and leased the building to the organization, which had its own concerns, and launched a police investigation.
The arts board said in late April that the operation owed $68,000, but had only $5,000 in assets, adding the books were in disarray, and the art center couldn’t pay its teachers.
The city soon announced it was pulling its $50,000 annual funding for the arts center. The nonprofit began negotiating with the city to try to remain intact, but City Council declined assistance.
An audit completed in June found $4,789 in “likely unauthorized” expenses, another $5,937 in expenses that may have been unauthorized, and $9,455 worth of payroll and other reimbursements to Brusig that auditors said required further explanation.
Brusig told the Post Independent at the time that all the expenses detailed in the auditor’s report had been approved by the board.
The city ended up agreeing to pay art center teachers more than $20,000 after they’d gone for months without pay. That agreement, however, required the art center to end its contract with the city and vacate the building.
In a separate matter, Brusig pleaded guilty last April to felony check fraud in Eagle County District Court, in exchange for a deferred sentence.
She had been charged with check fraud earlier that year, after her landlord, who resided in Eagle County, reported that she had written about $18,000 in bad checks after going about nine months without paying rent.
The Glenwood Arts Council has since reorganized and has been working to regroup with new program offerings.
The city has also taken over some arts classes through its recreation programming, and the Summer of Music has reorganized as its own separate entity.
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