Ousted Taser cop sues Aspen
ASPEN – Former police officer Melinda Calvano has hit the city of Aspen with a lawsuit, claiming that it wrongfully fired her after she used a stun gun on a homeless woman in a downtown alley. The lawsuit, filed Friday in Pitkin County District Court, comes after an arbitrator ruled last month that the city legitimately fired Calvano because she violated the city’s use-of-force policy.In June 2006, Calvano confronted Carol Alexy – a then 63-year-old homeless woman – whom Calvano suspected of stealing a sweater from The Thrift Store’s drop box. Calvano used a stun gun to zap Alexy, who was later treated at Aspen Valley Hospital and released. The incident prompted an departmental investigation, which led City Manager Steve Barwick to fire Calvano for breaking the department’s use-of-force policy. The termination, against the wishes of Police Chief Loren Ryerson, came in July 2006.The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, claims that Barwick lied to the media about the termination and disputes the findings of Judge Jim Carrigan, who oversaw the name-clearing hearing.Contacted Wednesday, Carrigan stood by his decision. “The judgment stands on its own,” said Carrigan, a retired state and federal judge. “I served on the Colorado Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. I try to treat arbitration the same as I would one of those actual lawsuits.”Carrigan’s 13-page decision came in early July, after a six-month-long hearing Calvano requested to clear her name.”I find and conclude that Calvano’s decision and judgment to Taser Alexy was neither reasonable nor proportionate as required by the department’s use of force rules,” Carrigan wrote in his decision.Even so, Carrigan noted that former Aspen assistant police chief Glenn Schaffer and two outside experts brought in to review the case soon after the incident – Frisco Police Chief Tom Wickham and Vail Police Commander Susan Douglas – would have exonerated Calvano.Calvano’s lawsuit argues that because the City presented no testimonial evidence in the hearing and because the experts would have exonerated Calvano, Carrigan’s conclusions were unwarranted by evidence. Carrigan disagreed with the experts in his report. “I cannot believe that the Aspen Police Department’s rules would authorize an officer to fire a Taser at an old lady who is calmly and quietly sitting on outdoor stairs,” Carrigan wrote.Carrigan wrote that while the departmental policies “strongly urge officers to de-escalate the level of physical threats,” Calvano “escalated the situation from an informative conversation, to an unprovable petty theft case, to asserted charges of resisting arrest, obstruction of an officer, and assault of an officer. None of these charges were ever filed, leaving the police department in the embarrassing position of having fired a Taser and inflicted pain on an old, homeless woman who had committed no provable offense.”Calvano was not available for comment, though the spokeswoman for the city of Lone Tree, near Denver, confirmed Calvano’s hiring as a police officer. “We hired her,” Michelle Kivela said. “We wouldn’t have hired her if we weren’t confident in her abilities.” Attorneys for Calvano and the city were not available for comment Wednesday night. At the time of the Taser incident, the use of force policy did not govern Tasers directly by name. Ryerson said at the time that the department’s use-of-force policy covered Tasers, though it did not mention them directly. It took the Aspen Police Department nearly a year after the Taser incident to finish a policy regulating stun-gun use.Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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