Paper pushes for cop’s file
In November 1995, a Carbondale police officer used excessive force against a resident.
Little is known publicly about what happened, but the Valley Journal in Carbondale is trying to change that. The weekly newspaper, town officials and the lawyer for officer Jose Munoz are embroiled in a legal battle over the release of records that detail a complaint against the officer. The complaint was substantiated, and Munoz was disciplined.
Town officials in March went to court to stop the file from being released, asking a judge to review the information and deem it to be private.
The case pits the rights of the public to know what a police officer who receives a taxpayer-funded salary is doing while on duty against the rights of police to keep personnel files private.
The Valley Journal first became interested in the 1995 incident when it arose during the trial of a Carbondale resident earlier this year. Munoz stopped Steve Horn in August 2004 for running a stop sign. Horn got out of his vehicle and approached Munoz to ask what the problem was. Munoz, according to an article in the Valley Journal, felt threatened and said Horn was acting erratically. He stunned Horn six times with a Taser and arrested him.
Accused of resisting arrest, impeding a police officer and the traffic infraction, Horn was found guilty only on the last charge.
Even though the trial was over months ago, the Valley Journal has continued its attempt to get the records released, perhaps because Horn said he intended to sue the town for injuries he allegedly suffered in the traffic stop. That lawsuit has yet to be filed, Horn’s lawyer said.
Editor John Stroud declined comment about why the paper continues to pursue Munoz’s files. District Judge James Boyd will review the matter Sept. 30.
Munoz and the lawyers representing the newspaper are both confident of Boyd ruling their way.
The argument of Munoz’s attorney, Marc Colin, is essentially that the files are “highly personal and confidential,” that he was given promises of confidentiality when he made his statement during the internal investigation and that it would hurt his reputation in Carbondale.
Steven Zansberg, the Valley Journal’s lawyer, said an officer’s on-duty tasks are hardly personal and private.
“These are public records, essentially, and these defenses to disclosure have no merit,” said Zansberg, whose firm also represents The Aspen Times and newspapers around the state. The same company owns the Times and the Valley Journal, and the Post Independent.
The fight to see documents from a recalcitrant police department is hardly new, Zansberg said. “We have fought this fight in numerous jurisdictions, and each time we have fought it on behalf of the ACLU or our media clients, we have won, and the file has been required to be disclosed,” he said.
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