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D.A. and Sheriff disagree over public records

Elise Thatcher
Aspen Public Radio

Sherry Caloia, who heads up the Ninth Judicial District, would prefer nothing be given to the press or public until cases are completely resolved, when either the defendant has been found guilty or innocent. That way, there is no risk in tainting a jury pool and it makes her prosecution easier.

“If I can get a clean prosecution that’s not overturned on appeal, yeah, that’s what I want. The rules of professional responsibilities that we operate under as prosecutors requires that we not allow information to released to the media that could have an adverse effect on a prosecution,” she says.

Caloia has ordered sheriff Joe DiSalvo to stop releasing records, including police reports. She wrote in an August 5th email that if DiSalvo puts the DA’s office or any of its cases in jeopardy she will take action and “not be nice about it.” Caloia also even insinuated the sheriff’’s office and the county government could be sued for slander.  

Caloia’s frustration was prompted by the release of a domestic violence police report, as well as the infamous video showing Snowmass Town Councilman Chris Jacobson tearing apart the Pitkin County Jail.

DiSalvo is the custodian of the records, under state law. He’s refusing to comply with Caloia’s order, citing the Colorado Open Records Act. He says he will use his discretion to release whatever he believes is in the public’s best interest.

“I told Ms. Caloia respectfully that I am going to keep releasing records the way this office has been doing it for the 27 plus years i’ve worked here,” he says. “I think the public has a right to know what their police are doing and who they are involved with.”

That’s a position the county attorney holds, as well as prominent Colorado First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg.

“There is nothing improper with a custodian of records making a decision as here that a particular criminal justice record should be disclosed in favor of the public interest,” he says.

Caloia argues public attention is often contrary to the pursuit of justice because the matter is talked about, debated and “tried” in the media.

She says her mandate is an attempt to uphold the rules of conduct she has to follow as a prosecutor.