Michael Hancock prostitution story: Do Denver cops have different rules for mayor-elect, press?

Thumbnail image for michael hancock election night cropped.JPG
Michael Hancock.
Although the uproar over reports allegedly linking mayor-elect Michael Hancock to the Denver Players prostitution operation has died down, one journalist -- Complete Colorado's Todd Shepherd, who broke the story in the first place -- isn't giving up. But he's hit a roadblock with the Denver Police Department, which he sees as treating the media and the Hancock team differently.

By way of example, Shepherd, who's also employed by the Libertarian-leaning Independence Institute, shares a note he received from Mary Dulacki, records coordinator for the Manager of Safety's office, in response to an information request he submitted on June 20. The e-mail clearly references the DPD's decision to check surveillance evidence obtained during the Denver Players investigation to see if Hancock or his vehicle popped up in any photos -- which they reportedly did not. Shepherd's original missive is incorporated in Dulacki's reply:

Dear Todd:

The Denver Police Department PIO forwarded your June 20th e-mail to me for response. Your request was:

I have a few questions about the DPD's surveillance of the "Denver Players/Denver Sugar" prostitution ring.

1) Can the DPD disclose any resulting inventories as a result of the surveillance? I.e., number of photographs, hours of video, etc.

1A) Has the DPD verified the inventory recently?

2) Can the DPD estimate the number of work hours assigned to this surveillance?

3) Did the DPD create any inventory and/or database and/or list of identified individuals (customers, employees, or otherwise) associated with the surveillance?

4) Did the FBI assist in this surveillance, and if so, to what extent?

5) Can the DPD list or name any other tax evasion cases it has worked on in the last 5-10 years?

Records of the Denver Police Department are "criminal justice records," the disclosure of which is governed by the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act, C.R.S. 24-72-301, et. seq. Except for records of "official actions," the disclosure of criminal justice records is discretionary and can be denied where the custodian believes disclosure would be contrary to the public interest. C.R.S. 24-72-305(5).

Pursuant to Harris v. Denver Post, 123 P.3d 116 (Colo. 2005), the following factors are used to determine whether a record should be released or withheld:

(a) the privacy interests of individuals, if any, who may be impacted by a decision to allow disclosure of the record;
(b) the agency's interest in keeping confidential information confidential;
(c) the agency's interest in the integrity of on-going investigations;
(d) the public purpose to be served in allowing disclosure of the record; and
(e) any other pertinent considerations relevant to the circumstances of the particular records request, including whether disclosure would be contrary to the public interest.

Questions 1-3 of your request relate to evidence obtained from the joint federal and local investigation and surveillance into Denver Sugar/Denver Players. That evidence is part of the current federal criminal prosecution against Brenda Stewart by the Department of Justice. The law enforcement and prosecution interest in preserving the integrity of the criminal justice process and the defendant's right to a fair trial outweighs any public purpose to be served by commenting on evidence which was gathered during the investigation while the case is pending. Further, the United States Attorney's Office has formally objected to the release of any records or evidence held by the Denver Police Department because the release could negatively impact the prosecution.

As noted above, the investigation into Denver Sugar/Denver Players was a joint federal and local investigation and surveillance. Again, the interest in preserving the integrity of the ongoing prosecution outweighs any public purpose to be served by commenting on the specifics of the surveillance portion of the investigation as requested in your question 4.

Because tax evasion cases are prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office, question 5 may best be answered by that office.

If you have any further questions in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Regards,

Mary Dulacki
Records Coordinator

This rejection struck Shepherd as hypocritical, given that the DPD had shared information about the Denver Players surveillance material with the Hancock team. Hence, this subsequent e-mail to Dulacki:

Mary:

I do have one follow up question.

In your letter, you state:

That evidence is part of the current federal criminal prosecution against Brenda Stewart by the Department of Justice. The law enforcement and prosecution interest in preserving the integrity of the criminal justice process and the defendant's right to a fair trial outweighs any public purpose to be served by commenting on evidence which was gathered during the investigation while the case is pending.

If such is the case, then why did the department give information to Mr. Michael Hancock and/or his lawyer regarding whether or not the surveillance yielded any pictures of Mr. Hancock? The department clearly commented on evidence regarding the surveillance, even though that evidence was "negative," i.e. a declaration that something specific was not in the inventory.

Furthermore, your letter states:

Further, the United States Attorney's Office has formally objected to the release of any records or evidence held by the Denver Police Department because the release could negatively impact the prosecution.

"...any records..." Again, I find this to be contrary to the department's actions when the department informed Mr. Hancock the surveillance yielded no photos of him.

Can you or the department please explain what appears to be a selective application of the principles claimed to be at stake when refusing to answer my questions?

Regards,

ts

Todd Shepherd
Reporter/Researcher
Independence Institute

Yesterday, Dulacki got back to Shepherd with this note:

The Department has responded to numerous CCJRA requests for records from this investigation, several of which specifically sought disclosure of documents or photos which identify or depict Mayor-elect Michael Hancock or any vehicle registered to him. Some of those requests also preemptively argued that the release of those records would not impact any pending criminal investigation or prosecution. The Department consistently asserted two separate grounds for denying the requests seeking records specific to Mayor-elect Hancock: that no such records exist and that the release of any such records could negatively impact the ongoing federal prosecution. After the Department received a formal objection from the U. S. Attorney's Office on June 13, 2011, the Department noted that objection in its responses as well.

The Department disputes your characterization that it was "commenting on the evidence" or that it "selectively applied the principles at stake" by affirmatively responding that the requested records do not exist. Rather, the Department was appropriately stating all applicable grounds for its denial of the requests, particularly in light of the fact that the requesting parties had preemptively challenged on of those grounds.

Mary Dulacki
Records Coordinator
Office of the Manager of Safety

To put it mildly, Shepherd doesn't buy this line of reasoning. "They bury it in a lot of words, but bottom line is, I'm still right," he contends via e-mail. Whatever the case, the turn-down could bear fruit down the line. Dulacki's argument about why the information can't be released now seems largely predicated on the prosecution of Brenda Stewart, Denver Players' owner following the reign of Scottie Ewing, the main source of information pointing at Hancock. However, Stewart struck a deal with prosecutors in April, agreeing to plead guilty to one count of tax evasion. She's slated to enter said plea on July 6, with sentencing on November 7.

This schedule suggests that the best excuse of the DPD and the U.S. Attorney's Office for snubbing Shepherd will likely be rendered moot next week or, at the latest, early November. Of course, these offices could well come up with more, especially considering rumors of other prominent Denver Players clients whose names haven't been made public to date. But that's a story for another day.

More from our Media archive: "Michael Hancock prostitution-ring story: The hilariously inconclusive phone records review."


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12 comments
Me
Me

WHY, WHY, WHY are Todd Shepherd and his Independence Institute puppeteers immune from media scrutiny, even by the Post? Why is Westword giving this politically-motivated-and-funded attack dog (who filled the same partisan role as a "newsman" at KOA) such an accommodating platform? Which of the Institute's big donors are so afraid of a Hancock administration that they got Shepherd to launch this "story"? What's the matter, Mike Roberts? Are you so afraid of losing your guest spots on the Peter Boyles show that you're willing to keep kissing this right-winger's ass and not investigate his motivation? Does this town have any real journalists left? "Liberal media"? Bullshit.

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

Thanks for weighing in. Much appreciated.

DB
DB

That's your defense, Michael? Someone asks a well-founded question about your credibility and why you don't do your job as a "journalist" and your only reply is "Thanks for weighing in, Much appreciated"? That's what condescending assholes say when they have no actual defense -- especially to a fair question. I see only two defenses, however: lazy and biased. Otherwise, answer it, Michael. Why don't you investigate or at least question these people? That's the question.

Kay Sieverding
Kay Sieverding

I heard that most customers or payers of expensive brothels are lawyers. So the Denver Players could be connected to all the financial corruption, insurance fraud etc in the State of Colorado for the last 5- 10 years. The brothel could be connected to Minerals Management Service problems.  The brothel could be connected to the weirdness with Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency, an insurance company that isn't incorporated -- see Colorado Secretary of State, isn't a local government, isn't a state agency -- see Colorado Attorney General filings in my case  05-cv-5485. The assistant state A.G., Christine K. Wilkinson, wrote “the State has no control over CIRSA"..."CIRSA is not an arm of the State" and doesn't pay income tax -- see Peg Brown Colorado Division of Insurance.  I think that is really weird especially considering that CIRSA insures over 200 local governments and insures dams.  CIRSA has foreign reinsurance and you wonder if they really have the funds to pay a big claim if a dam broke or there was a problem with a municipal water supply. In my case, I called them and spoke to a claims adjuster, Wagoner, and was told that he found my claim number and I should call back. When I did so, he said he was told to hang up on me.  CIRSA sold a $5 Mill policy with a $10,000 deductible to the City of Steamboat Springs CO for government officials errors and omissions.  The city manager, city council president and city planning services director all claimed that a 2 story 2000 + sq foot building with heating and plumbing was a two car garage even though only 40% of it was accessible to automobiles, so that was an error.  I complained that it violated the zoning which I had a right to do because it was  only 10 feet from my property.  Because of that and for no other reason I was criminally prosecuted. There was no warrant and no written statement of probable cause.  I was prosecuted solely on the signature of Jane Bennett, who owned the building together with her husband Kevin Bennett, president of the city council.  He is a convicted drug dealer.  The city let Jane Bennett sign a form that is only supposed to be signed by police officers and only when they actually witness a crime.  The police report shows that I accused her of violating the zoning. She told a judge in an ex parte hearing that I had trespassed on her property and scared her construction workers but she couldn't produce any photos or witnesses to support that.  In fact, one of her workers said he worked there for 100 days and every time he saw me I was just gardening or coming and going from my own house and Jane Bennett also said that I was very careful not to cross onto their property.  It was just agony for me.  Jane got a restraining order based on the criminal prosecution and she followed me around Steamboat trying to get the police to arrest me anytime she was able to get closer than 30 feet from me.  She even asked them to arrest me because I was in my own yard when she walked by.  There was no statutory basis for that; she used the forms designed for an intimate relationship. Her husband sent the police to the school to interview my 14 year old son about me. Then they got former judge Nottingham to order me to pay their lawyers $103 K with no rule 11(c)(6) orders, nothing showing I did anything wrong when I sued them.  Nottingham dismissed my case, 02-cv-1950, without writing an opinion. Nottingham also ordered that I be imprisoned for 5 months without a criminal charge, with no bail hearing, no government prosecutor.  I don't have a criminal record at all. So I am convinced that there was corruption and I think it involved the Denver Players.

Reader
Reader

You lost us after "I heard...."

Kay Sieverding
Kay Sieverding

I was on a conference call regarding corruption and someone else on the call said that she knew someone who was an escort and that that person said that most of their customers were lawyers.  I am an MIT grad and most of the men I dated were engineers and all the men in my family are engineers. I can't think of a single instance when either someone I knew personally or someone I read about was a "John" and was also an engineer. Engineers are more likely to be into bicycle riding for recreation and stress relief.

Did you read what I wrote about Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency?

WWinchell
WWinchell

I think I'll send a request of all law enforcement to produce evidence of any surveillance in any investigation depicting the Easter Bunny or any property or vehicle registered to the Easter Bunny.  Then when they respond that "no such evidence exists" I'll have reason to hound them over the the "comment in the negative" on every single ongoing investigation to produce all evidence that they have.

See?, I can stick my head up my ass and claim to be a journalist too!

Todd Shepherd
Todd Shepherd

WWinchell:

Contrary to your post, what evidence the Denver Police Department does NOT have is entirely relevant.  If the DPD is willing to say what they don't have, then I can eventually find out what they DO have by process of elimination.  That process of elimination may be excessively lengthy and time consuming, but can ultimately produce a yield, if DPD is willing to play the game (which they won't be).

Suppose I create a list of what I consider to be the top 1000 potential "high rollers" or VIP's in Denver, and ask DPD if they have photographic evidence of these 1000 people from the Denver Players/Denver Sugar surveillance. 995 times they'll say "no such evidence exists" and five times they'll say, "DPD cannot comment,"....and then checkmate.

OR, they can say they have no evidence of ANYBODY, in which case, the "no such evidence exists" provided to Mr. Hancock and his attorneys is meaningless, knowing that they didn't create an inventory of people by name.

Yours humbly,

ts

(By the way, police departments and district attorney's offices all across this country agree with my logic above, which is why they typically answer certain questions with, "I can neither confirm nor deny X."....which is probably how DPD should have answered Michael Hancock.)

DB
DB

Wow, Todd. your arms must be 10 feet long to stretch that far. I small the desperation of a self-humiliated journalist. Oh, wait, you're not a journalist, anymore. You're a political operative for secret donors to a conservative Astroturf organization. You are nothing more or less than Jon Caldera. Nevermind. Hey, how about that. Do an investigation into who funds the Independence Institute.

Hair Splitter
Hair Splitter

Well, because you're a fan of parsing words, let's do that, shall we?

The statement "no such evidence exists" is actually an opinion that is non-responsive to your original request.  Your original request was for "records".  The Department declined to give them to you, just as they declined to give "records" to the Hancock campaign.  The Department gave you the same answer they gave the campaign, the "records", or to use your term "resulting inventories," will not be disclosed.  To say something is not in the "resulting inventory" is not disclosing what is in the inventory.  (By the way, I heard that Todd Shepherd was filmed there...so prove that he wasn't). 

Further, the DPD makes it clear in their response that they don't have control over the inventory;

"Questions 1-3 of your request relate to evidence obtained from the joint federal and local investigation and surveillance into Denver Sugar/Denver Players. That evidence is part of the current federal criminal prosecution against Brenda Stewart by the Department of Justice."

Consequently, the DPD has no "inventory" at all.  The Feds have possessory control over that "inventory", so the response by the DPD to your question should have been more straightforward:  "We have no records of anything related to your inquiry."

See, I'm a "Journalist"!  I just reported on how a stupid question from the Press can be completely avoided... by process of elimination.

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

Strong post -- one we're going to make an upcoming Comment of the Day. Thanks, WWinchell.

Vill Robinson
Vill Robinson

What "story" did this Independence Institute functionary "break?" He posted unsubstantiated, possibly faked information that to date has not been proven to be true. How is that "breaking a story?" That's like saying a guy standing on the corner of Federal and Speer "broke the story" that Clinton raped Juanita.

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