Horse Gulch Blog

Watchdogging for the greater Durango area

6 Mar 2013

Sergeant Dave Peterson, Investigator Trish Hutchens accused of harassment at Obama rally

Posted by Adam Howell


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A 3-day reply deadline requirement stipulated in the Colorado Open Records Act was missed pertaining to a records request that this blogger made last week with Sergeant Geary Parsons and Chief Jim Spratlen.

A 3-day reply deadline requirement stipulated in the Colorado Open Records Act was missed pertaining to a records request that this blogger made last week with Sergeant Geary Parsons and Chief Jim Spratlen. Captain Don Baker and Sergeant Jacob Dunlop have since acknowledged the request and are maintaining communications with this blogger.

If a police officer told you to leave an outdoor, public property for handing out political fliers and practicing your constitutional right to free speech, you might feel violated–even oppressed.

That’s what happened to this blogger outside of the Michelle Obama rally at Fort Lewis College last November.

Outside of Whalen Gymnasium where Obama was holding a rally for her husband, this blogger was canvassing a crowd that was waiting in line on the sidewalk to get in.

Political leafleting for Amendment 64, The Initiative to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, this blogger was handing out advocacy cards with statistics about marijuana versus alcohol usage, reasons why marijuana is safer, and reasons to vote for the Amendment.

A female volunteer or staff member with the Obama campaign approached me and told me that I could not hand out my literature to people waiting in line, as it was prohibited per campus policy.

A long line of people was standing outside of Whalen Gymnasium waiting to get into the Obama rally. This is where Sgt. Peterson on Investigator Hutchens asked this blogger to leave for passing out political fliers.

A long line of people was standing outside of Whalen Gymnasium waiting to get into the Obama rally. This is where Sgt. Peterson and Investigator Hutchens told this blogger to leave while I was passing out political fliers.

This blogger told her that it was not against campus policy. I said that sidewalks at Fort Lewis College are public property where free speech is indeed permitted to occur, and then I continued to hand out the fliers.

The lady continued to try stepping in front of me, as to prohibit me from handing out my fliers, but I continued to step around her while she pleaded for me stop. She even asked a nearby firefighter to stop me. He looked our way but did nothing.

By the time I had handed out fliers to everyone who was standing in line, I decided to stay in the back of the line and go into the gymnasium, but a volunteer with the Obama campaign physically blocked the path into the gym and held his hands out to the sides as to keep me from entering at the end of the line. Even as I tried to step around the guy, he would move into position to get in my way.

Explaining that I would not hand out my literature if he allowed me into the event, the short young man told me that I was not allowed in.

Within a minute or two, Investigator Trish Hutchens with the Durango Police Department approached me and told me to leave the area. This blogger told her that she had no right to make me leave, as this was public property on a public campus where free speech was indeed permitted.

Hutchens had a supervisor working nearby named Sergeant Dave Peterson. He had arrived to harass me around the same time as Hutchens.

Peterson stepped around his female counterpart to tell me that he was her supervisor, and that he could make me leave, as such. This blogger told him that he had no legal right to make me leave a public property where I was lawfully handing out political literature to people standing outside a building.

He reiterated that he was asking me to not only leave the immediate area, but to leave the Fort Lewis College campus altogether. He asked to see my identification, I obliged. I asked to see his identification, and he obliged.

After getting his name, I walked off towards my vehicle and left campus, not wanting to risk arrest, even if it was an unwarranted arrest.

This blogger did not call the police to report this criminal harassment, but I should have called 911 immediately.

I did, however, visit the Durango Police Department about a month later on Nov. 9, 2012 to submit a complaint form against Peterson where this blogger charged Peterson with violating my rights to free speech and criminal harassment. Complaint against Sergeant Dave Peterson

A subsequent complaint of Investigator Hutchens’ actions was given to Chief Jim Spratlen via Records Technician Carla Schuck on March 1, 2013. Complaint against Investigator Trish Hutchens

On December 11, 2012 this blogger received a written response from Shry about my complaint against Peterson. Shry’s response to complaint against Sergeant Dave Peterson

Shry’s response was that “Peterson was acting within departmental policy as well as within state and federal laws at the time of your arrest. Sergeant Peterson is exonerated of all allegations.”

Although Shry said to “feel free to contact” him if I had any questions or would like to discuss the matter further, he did not return this blogger’s voice mail or email messages.

Captain Shry and Sergeant Dave Peterson stated that they were working under the leadership and auspices of Fort Lewis College, despite a contradicting statement made by Fort Lewis College’s Chief of Police, Arnold Trujillo.

Trujillo stated that there were five or six incident commanders at the event, under a joint-command incident management system.

Durango Police Department Chief Jim Spratlen

Durango Police Department Chief Jim Spratlen did not return this blogger’s phone call regarding his leadership during the Obama rally.

“An incident of this type, what happens is each chief or sheriff or commander of that particular department is in charge of his or her personnel at that event,” said Trujillo. “So if it’s a Durango PD officer, the Chief of Durango PD is responsible for that officer’s action.”

In Trujillo’s words, since the incident involved a Durango PD officer, it falls under the jurisdiction of the Durango Police Department. This flies in direct contradiction to what Shry and Peterson told this blogger.

“One of the kind of the out of the ordinary things that happened was we were working under the auspice of Fort Lewis College, their authorities,” said Shry. “So I’ve got to look into some of the kind of the intricacies of their authority on Fort Lewis. That’ll be part of my conclusion when I look into the complaint.”

This blogger obtained quotes from Shry through a private conversation at the Durango Police Department, as he has been unwilling to return this blogger’s phone calls or emails in the past pertaining to this as well as another news story in the past.

Shry could not explain why he had to research the jurisdictional rules that he thought his officers were operating under, or why those rules were not understood before his officers had to implement them. I asked him about it.

“I guess I’m kind of miffed at how you are trying to figure out, you know, the way the law works after the fact,” I said. “Whereas, the law was implemented in such a way ahead of time, you know, and now you’re back tracking to find out how the law was meant to be implemented. So I’m just kind of curious why it works that way instead of trying to figure out the way the law works ahead of time, and then implement it.”

Shry’s response to this blogger indicated that he had little involvement or understanding of what his officers were doing up at the College event.

“That’s some things that I wasn’t clear on and wasn’t part of what happened up there,” said Shry. “That’s why I have to clarify.”

In disagreement about the facts, this blogger contends that Peterson did not act within state law or campus policy at the time when he had asked me to leave campus for distributing political fliers.

What Peterson did was criminally harass me by making me leave a public sidewalk where I was practicing my 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech, as laid out in the U.S. Constitution.

Peterson had no legal authority to make me leave a sidewalk on a public campus where I was lawfully handing out fliers.

My right to pass out political fliers outside of buildings at Fort Lewis was confirmed by Mark Mastalski, Fort Lewis College’s Director of Leadership.

While this blogger was following all campus, municipal, state and federal laws during the time of being asked to leave a political rally at the college, the actions of Sgt. Dave Peterson and Investigator Trish Hutchens amount to criminal harassment by making me leave a public area.

Durago Police Department Chief Jim Spratlen did not return this blogger’s phone call regarding his leadership at the Obama event.

Alas, multiple Colorado Open Records Act requests for a picture album of police officers who were working at the Obama rally as well as a history of complaints made against Peterson and Hutchens have been ignored and gone unacknowledged since last week.

Sergeant Dave Peterson explains his actions

Peterson told us what the Durango Police Department was doing up at the college that day.

“We were there to try to support the Secret Service and FLC police,” said Community Programs Administrative Sergeant Dave Peterson in a telephone interview.

“What they told us to do, as long as they weren’t disruptive, then we were to allow that to persist,” said Peterson. “That was pretty much a briefing with the Secret Service and along with FLC administration.”

It had not previously been a common practice of his to approach people at political rallies and ask them to leave, Peterson said.

“Adam, what we had was a report of a disturbance,” said Peterson. “We were asked to, of course, quash any kind of disturbances or anything of that sort. And we were directed by the FLC staff to have you removed, and therefore we followed that direction.”

“It came over the radio that we had a disturbance reported at the, and that is where I got my direction,” he said.

At the event, Peterson says that the Secret Service were overseeing the Durango Police Department and their actions, which is where the Durango PD got the directive to quash physical disturbances. It is not clear how a physical disturbance was defined.

“And the Secret Service of course, oversees that. And it came across as a physical disturbance to us. And I don’t know whether anybody actually laid hands on you there or not,” said Peterson. “But to prevent any kind of continuation of physical violence or anything of that sort that we were directed to quash that fairly rapidly, and that’s what we did. And I did take it upon myself to ask you to leave with their authority.”

Pushing, punching or any other act of physical battery or assault did not occur during this protest, although Peterson says that he was acting off of the directive from someone who gave a code of a physical disturbance over the radio.

“All we had was a report of a disturbance,” he said. “They said have you removed because of a physical disturbance, but I did not know what had caused the physical disturbance at all, but that he needs to go.”

“It was from the Secret Service, who said we need any physical disturbances quashed, and we need them to leave,” Peterson said.

The report that Peterson received over the radio regarding this blogger’s verbal altercation with Obama staffers came across as a numerical identification code.

“It came across as actually a code that we’ve got,” said Peterson. “A physical disturbance at the head of the line, and when I looked down, I could see that there were some folks engaged in an argument, and therefore went that direction. And I was following several officers that were running that direction.”

Peterson, who’s been with the department for 32 years, was tongue tied about his sympathies towards people who voice themselves politically.

“I’m sorry about… You did everything that we asked you to, and that’s all that we asked. Like I told the Chief, it went pretty well. You’ve got your political goals, and Adam I shouldn’t go digging myself in any deeper. On a more private deal I would say, you know, I appreciate people being able to voice their rights.”

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