Castle Rock

Judge rules for town in open-records case

Withholding records from plaintiffs justified because of upcoming trials, judge says

Posted 2/23/14

A Castle Rock couple — whose car was damaged by a bullet Feb. 21, 2013, when a police officer was in pursuit of a suspect in a Plum Creek subdivision burglary — won't have access to additional police records that they wanted, for now, …

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Castle Rock

Judge rules for town in open-records case

Withholding records from plaintiffs justified because of upcoming trials, judge says

Posted

A Castle Rock couple — whose car was damaged by a bullet Feb. 21, 2013, when a police officer was in pursuit of a suspect in a Plum Creek subdivision burglary — won't have access to additional police records that they wanted, for now, anyway.

District Court Judge Paul King ruled Feb. 19 that Castle Rock and its police chief acted appropriately when denying the couple, Michael and Susan Cardella, access to various police records in part because two of the three burglary suspects still have trials pending and releasing the records could potentially result in tainting the jury pool and witnesses' testimony.

King said the police department has released some information, and that with regard to the rest of the police records requested, Castle Rock Police Chief Jack Cauley had reviewed those documents before making the decision to not release them and so didn't arbitrarily or capriciously withhold them, which is what the plaintiffs are claiming.

King said his ruling doesn't preclude the plaintiffs — the Cardellas and co-plaintiff, The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Colorado — from seeking the records after completion of those cases. King also denied awarding legal costs to the plaintiffs.

Castle Rock's defense team asked King if the town could be awarded its legal costs and King said to submit a request and he would consider it.

Michael Cardella, a retired Nevada police sergeant, said in a past interview that he was concerned that a Castle Rock police officer — whom Michael Cardella alleges he saw spinning around and firing his rifle blindly while in pursuit of the suspect — is still on the streets.

And that's why he says he wanted access right now to documents on the internal investigation instead of waiting to having access to them, like law enforcement wants, after the completion of criminal prosecution of the burglary suspects.

“Criminal cases can extend well past a year…and in that period of time, the officer that fired the rifle is still on the streets,” Cardella told the News-Press.

The Cardellas, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, filed suit in November against the Town of Castle Rock, its police chief and town clerk.

“The ACLU of Colorado is disappointed in today's ruling,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado's legal director. “We believe that Michael and Susan Cardella's right to know the details of the internal investigation that exonerated the officer can be accommodated without harm to the public interest or the pending prosecution.”

Cardella, a 35-year police veteran now retired, said what he witnessed was not proper protocol nor was it consistent with the way he was trained.

According to the Cardellas' lawsuit, Castle Rock Police Officer Terry Watts fired several rounds from a high-powered rifle in a residential area — near the corner of Mango Drive and South Plum Creek Boulevard — at an SUV driven by an unarmed burglary suspect as the suspect approached and drove past the officer.

“The officer's lines of fire covered a nearby school (which was in session), shopping centers, offices and parking lots,” according to the complaint.

And one bullet did strike Cardellas' car when both were inside, according to the complaint.

Watts has been with the department since 2006. Karen McGrath, town spokeswoman, said there has been no change in his position since the completion of the department's investigation and he still has his same rank and duties.

Legal counsel for the town, J. Andrew Nathan, at the Jan. 16 bench trial in this matter said that Cardellas' tire was damaged, they were compensated, and the “plaintiffs are ignoring all the records that were provided.” He said he thinks it's a “fishing expedition” they're on as they intend to “pursue a civil claim.”

So far, only one of the three burglary suspects' cases has been completed.

Andre Greer, 21, of Aurora, categorized as a habitual offender, pleaded guilty to second degree burglary, a third-class felony, on Oct. 21 and was sentenced to 20 years in the Colorado Department of Corrections, according to district attorney spokeswoman Michelle Yi.

Greer's brother, Alexander Christian Greer, 23, of Aurora, faces a March 18 trial on several charges: two counts of second-degree burglary; theft; and burglary-habitual offender. Bond was originally set at $250,000, then adjusted to $100,000.

Tshinbanda Yanick Kazadi, 24, of Aurora, faces an April 22 trial on seven counts: second-degree burglary; two counts of first-degree assault; theft; second-degree burglary; vehicular eluding; and violent crime/used weapon. Bond is set at $500,000.

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