Shooting probe to stay secret
The officer's statement to a grand jury probably won't be made public, and a new city process for reviewing police actions is said to be less open.

The Denver Post | June 8, 2005
By Sean Kelly, Amy Herdy and Kris Hudson

Denver residents may learn less about the fatal shooting of Frank Lobato in July by police officer Ranjan Ford Jr. than any police shooting in the past two decades. 

What Ford said last month before a grand jury that decided not to indict him on felony charges likely will never be made public, and the city investigation now starting also is likely to be secretive.

Ford shot the sickly 63-year-old man in his bed on July 11, mistaking a soda can he held for a weapon.

On Thursday, Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter said he made the decision to take the Lobato case to a grand jury "reluctantly" and did so because of evidence and credibility issues surrounding the shooting.

"If there are credibility questions and statements made by the officer that contradict physical evidence, then it's useful for the grand jury to examine that and make some determination," Ritter said.

Ritter compared the shooting to a highly controversial 1992 shooting by officer Michael Blake. Blake was indicted by a grand jury on a single count of second-degree murder, and prosecutors accused the officer of lying in his statements.

"Some of the same reasons we took the Michael Blake shooting to the grand jury were in the Frank Lobato shooting. The results turned out differently," he said.

Ritter wouldn't elaborate, but said: "Typically, in most police shootings, the physical evidence very much compares to what the witnesses say."

Ford's attorney, David Bruno, did not return a call seeking comment. Bruno represented Blake after the 1992 shooting.

Following reviews by Ritter of every police shooting during his 11-year tenure - except this one - the district attorney issued a detailed letter explaining the decision and opened the case file.

Ritter stressed that due to the secrecy of the grand jury process, he was unable to release information about his findings.

"People clamored for a grand jury investigation. They clamored for someone other than us to make a decision," he said. "So now they want us to write a letter, open a file, and we can't do that."

Now the city probe begins.

Ford's internal affairs case will be the first police shooting to come under the new review process, which likely will take about 100 days.

Critics of the new process have said it is less open than the previous one because it eliminates the Public Safety Review Commission, a citizen board that regularly reviewed police discipline cases.

If the officer is disciplined under the new process, Manager of Safety Al LaCabe said, he will write a letter "with sufficient details to explain whatever decision I reach." But if there is no discipline, LaCabe said, many details may not be made public.

Councilwoman Rosemary Rodriguez looks forward to the city's hiring of an independent police monitor next year to track and critique internal police investigations.

"We don't know what information was presented to the grand jury. We don't know what the scope of their investigation was. We don't know anything," she said. "I'm really at a loss as to what's going to happen next."

City rules outlining the authority of the independent monitor will allow the monitor to publicly express opinions about specific internal police investigations. However, the monitor cannot publicly reveal details of an investigation not previously revealed by city officials.

Mayor John Hickenlooper is scheduled to appoint seven people on Monday to a Citizen Oversight Board that will critique the monitor's work. The city hopes to hire a monitor by Feb. 28.