A request by the NAACP’s local chapter to reexamine a 7-year-old investigation into the Boulder police officer killed in the King Soopers shooting prompted discussion from the city’s fledgling police oversight panel about what cases it has the authority to review.
The request, which was first reported by the Boulder Weekly, was made in a letter from the NAACP’s Boulder County chapter to the police oversight panel on Wednesday and in the public comment portion of the oversight panel’s public virtual meeting on Thursday.
In the letter, the NAACP asked the committee to reexamine a 2014 complaint against the late Boulder police Officer Eric Talley. The complaint was filed by a Black man who said Talley pulled him over while off duty and held him at gunpoint for unsafe driving.
But a police investigation could not substantiate the allegations on two rule violations, and the complaint was closed.
The NAACP earlier this year requested an independent review of the investigation by Joseph Lipari, Boulder’s new independent police monitor. Lipari concluded that Talley could have been exonerated on one of the rule violations, and that the other violation could not be substantiated.
“We take any allegations of inappropriate police behavior seriously,” Boulder police Chief Maris Herold said in a statement. “This case was reviewed thoroughly and found to be without merit. To bring this up now, years later and after Officer Talley’s death, is unfortunate and unnecessarily painful for Officer Talley’s family.
“Officer Talley was an exemplary public servant. He gave his life in the service of community members as well as his fellow officers. We are proud of his overwhelmingly positive professional record and heroic sacrifice.”
The NAACP’s request comes amid the organization’s concerns about a pending bill in Congress from Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Lafayette, that would rename the downtown Boulder post office after Talley.
Talley, 51, was killed when he was the first officer to respond to the mass shooting at the south Boulder King Soopers on March 22. In addition to Talley, Denny Stong, 20; Neven Stanisic, 23; Rikki Olds, 25; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49; Teri Leiker, 51; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; and Jody Waters, 65, were killed in the shooting.
Darren O’Connor with the NAACP’s Boulder County chapter acknowledged during the public hearing at Thursday’s meeting that it was a sensitive issue, but said in light of the bill, both the initial review and then the follow-up review were “conclusory” and “biased.”
“We did not want to go public with this issue, but our concern was no one checked in on this officer’s history, and no one looked into whether he had complaints against him,” O’Connor said.
Neguse’s office released a statement Thursday regarding the case.
“Officer Talley was a hero who bravely sacrificed his life for our community as he worked to save the lives of others during the mass shooting at the King Soopers in Boulder on March 22,” Sally Tucker, Neguse’s communications director, said in a statement. “Regarding his service record, our office is aware of the concern that you referenced, and have confirmed there were no sustained complaints in the officer’s record.
“Our community owes a heavy debt of gratitude to Officer Talley for his heroic actions, and our hearts and thoughts continue to go out to the officer’s wife and children, all of the victims’ families, and all those impacted by this terrible tragedy.”
The Boulder District Attorney’s Office, which also reviewed the case along with the FBI, issued a statement in support of the bill.
“Officer Talley served this community and, on March 22, acted with tremendous courage and died a hero,” Boulder District Attorney Michael Dougherty said in a statement. “The complaint in question was investigated in 2014 and determined to be unfounded. In 2021, it was reviewed once more. The thorough reviews by the Boulder Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Independent Police Monitor, and District Attorney’s Office all reached the same conclusion. I fully support the decision by Congressman Neguse to honor Officer Talley for his courage.”
Lipari at the meeting stood by his review of the initial police investigation, and told O’Connor, “The assumptions that you have implied both in your letter and in your presentation just now are contradicted by the evidentiary record.”
But some members of the panel asked that the case be put on the agenda for next week and wanted more time to examine the report. But the question of how to essentially review a review of a review for a case that is seven years old, or if the board even has the jurisdiction, raised some procedural concerns for a panel that has yet to even solidify its bylaws.
“I think we need to be mindful about how and in what ways we address cold cases,” Taishya Adams said.
Both O’Connor and Annett James, president of the NAACP’s Boulder County chapter, during the public comment session brought up the role of the NAACP in pushing for the creation of the panel, and James said that if the panel did not take up the case, it would “change the NAACP’s perspective” on the panel and cause the organization to push for a “restructure” or a liaison.
“You exist for exactly this moment,” James said.
But panel member Daniel Leonard said he wanted to create a procedural way for cases like this to be brought up so even complainants who did not have the backing of an organization like the NAACP would have an avenue to raise their concerns.
“That’s an issue of equity for me,” Leonard said.
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