Tuesday

The stench of coverup

Secrecy appears to be a scourge nowadays. Seems like if you have money or position, you can get away with anything. This has become clear in two stories that have crossed my desk in the last two weeks.

This past week the Pueblo Chieftain carried an article about La Junta’s former police chief Charles “Chuck” Widup. Widup was reportedly at fault in a traffic accident in which six individuals suffered injury. Widup was charged with DUI, according to the Pueblo Chieftain, with a blood alcohol level of .233. That level was recorded two hours after the accident, and is almost three times the legal limit in this state. Widup was issued a summons and given a ride home, with no requirement to post bond or cool his heels in jail.

Because of this, people in town are angry. People believe that Widup received special treatment because he works for the Department of Corrections, and has “connections” with the leadership of the Pueblo police department.

I did a little research about this and discovered that there is no law that says a drunk driver has to go to jail. Drunk driving is a traffic misdemeanor under Colorado law and is a releasable offense. It really is up to the officer; however, each community may decide what they will do. In La Junta, according to Police Chief Todd Quick, all DUIs go to jail and have to bond out, unless there is an extenuating medical condition. In that case, the person is turned over to a responsible party who agrees to keep them until they are sober.

So, if Widup had been soused in La Junta, he would have gone to jail. But he wasn’t. He was in Pueblo, where apparently the police department is “confused” about policy.

Sure they were.

As editor, I have been asked several times this week whether or not I am going to publish something about Widup’s accident and I fully intended to do so. It has taken so long because none of the involved authorities have been forthcoming with information. On Monday I called the Pueblo Police Department to get the report and I was told that it had already been turned over to the district attorney and they couldn’t discuss the matter. The clerk gave me the D.A.’s phone number so I called them. At the D.A.’s office the nice lady told me that she didn’t have the case and that she would call me back.

As of today, that call has not been returned. I still have questions about the incident. For example, there is a two hour time limit between the time the arrestee last drove and the administration of the breath test. From the Pueblo Chieftain account, Widup’s test may have been outside that two hour window, and therefore inadmissible in the Department of Revenue license revocation hearing. And, without that test, no judge will take action against his license. I can’t confirm that because of the two-stepping ’round the scales of justice by our law enforcement community in Pueblo County. But if that is in fact the case, what do we have? Yet another bit of “confusion” on the part of Pueblo Police Department? Way to go, there, public “safety” officials.

In another matter, Rep. Wes McKinley (D - Walsh) was accused of sexually harassing a young lobbyist. He is also protected by secrecy. A ruling called Joint Rule 38, a rule developed by legislators for legislators, keeps the public from learning what becomes of our mustached, guitar-pickin’ cow-pie kickin’ good ol’ boy politician and any other lawmaker that gets caught. According to Face the State, the news agency that broke the story, all Wes gets is a slap on the wrist. He gets to go to a class.

I’m sure that will keep him from harassing anyone else. It works so well in other cases. Way to go there, elected representatives, who seem to have forgotten who hired them. We are, indeed, the very people who need protection from these types of people.

These coverups are enough to make me sick. Do I like knowing other people’s dirt? I must because I’m a journalist, right? Wrong. I don’t. But when public officials and law enforcement personnel are caught doing wrong, then the public has a right to know. These people are paid by our tax dollars. We should know whether or not the right people have been hired. We should be able to vote with the right information, or in Widup’s case, be able to complain about his behavior to the proper people. We should let law enforcement officials know that we are not pleased when they break the very laws that common people are booked for every day. We should let the legislature know that they should set an example for the rest of us.

What happens if this kind of thing occurs here in La Junta? More of the same? The incompetence and untrustworthiness of the Pueblo Police Department and our elected officials smears all with the same stench.