Cop Cadet in Center of Political Storm 

Cop Cadet in Center of Political Storm 
Posted by FoM on December 11, 1999 at 20:51:56 PT
By Kevin Vaughan & Kevin Flynn
Source: Denver Rocky Mountain News 
Denver officials retreated into silence Thursday as they launched a high-level investigation into the appointment of a police recruit with an extensive drug use history. City attorneys briefed the City Council's Public Safety Committee in a secret morning meeting. 
Afterward, they disclosed that the mayor's office, the city attorney, the Civil Service Commission and the Department of Safety are investigating the hiring of Ellis Johnson.Both the commission and Department of Safety would also be the focus of the investigation."Right now it's in the legal arena until we understand what happened," said City Councilwoman Cathy Reynolds. "I don't have a clue right now what the truth is."At issue is the appointment Nov. 1 of police recruit Johnson, 40.Johnson acknowledged during the application process that he used drugs extensively when he was much younger. He is one of 35 recruits currently in Denver's police academy. He said he hadn't used drugs in a dozen years.His appointment by Manager of Safety Fidel "Butch" Montoya raised questions about the role played by the city's five civil service commissioners and was decried by the head of the Denver police union."I don't believe someone with that type of a background really has a spot in law enforcement," said Sgt. Mike Stack, head of the Police Protective Association.Montoya and Police Chief Tom Sanchez both refused comment.Brian Kellogg, a Civil Service Commission spokesman, said Executive Director Paul Torres would respond only to written questions.And Mayor Wellington Webb, through spokesman Andrew Hudson, would only say that he doesn't know Johnson and has never met him.On Wednesday, Torres accused police Capt. Jim Collier of trying to derail Johnson's application. Torres also accused Collier of lying in a memo by claiming that Montoya had approved ending the ongoing background check being conducted on Johnson, which would have halted his application with the department.Reynolds said administration officials assured the council the investigation would be "thorough."Councilwoman Ramona Martinez, who chairs the safety committee, said after the closed-door meeting that city investigators want to know whether one of the five commissioners asked Torres to remove some documents from Johnson's agency file."That would be inappropriate," Martinez said.Another issue to be addressed is whether Johnson, who disclosed extensive drug use more than 12 years ago is qualified to be in the academy, Martinez said.Officials at several other police agencies said an applicant with a background like Johnson's wouldn't be considered."If it was extensive use, we probably won't even look at their application any further," said Jefferson County sheriff's Lt. Steve Davis.In Englewood, police spokesman Jim Ulrich said selling drugs, using them on the job or committing a felony -- even if not arrested and convicted -- would disqualify a job candidate.In Thornton, there's no written policy, officer Matt Barnes said, about the past drug use of job candidates. But, he said, "extensive drug use would omit that candidate from further consideration."Johnson tried and failed to get jobs at several metro-area departments.In the meantime, Stack, the head of the police union, said he wondered whether the city is hiring the best candidates for the job."The only thing I look at is this is a career for those of us in this field," he said. "We're here for the long haul -- I've got 28 years."I've never been embarrassed, nor do I ever want to be embarrassed, to tell somebody I'm a Denver police officer."December 10, 1999  Copyright, Denver Publishing Co.Related Article:Drug Use Common For Cop Hopefuls - 12/09/99
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