Dennis Goodwin won the Arapahoe Community College’s 2012-2013 Administrator of the Year award in the nick of time, as it was his last year there.
Goodwin served as the campus police chief for seven years, but three weeks ago started his new position as the state of Colorado’s child protection ombudsman. His office investigates complaints about the child-welfare system and reviews cases to make sure they were conducted properly. It was somewhat controversial when it was established two years ago, but he feels that corner has been turned. Now he wants to focus on making it more independent and effective.
“Having subpoena power and a little more teeth would be helpful,” he said.
While his new job helps protect kids from monsters who would hurt them, Goodwin has encountered myriad others in his 33-year career in law enforcement. He was the chief investigator with the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office at the time of the Columbine shootings, and victim Matthew Kechter was the grandson of one of his employees.
Another case that sticks with him from that time is the brutal 1997 murder of 21-year-old Anita Paley at the hands of Robert Riggan Jr. Goodwin traveled to the Midwest to interview Riggan’s family.
“I learned that he was a monster,” he said. “He was a bad guy, very abusive physically and in every way you can be abusive.”
Goodwin is featured in a book about Paley’s murder, “Rough Trade” by Steve Jackson. However, Riggan is not the most notorious criminal Goodwin has encountered. As a student at Florida State University in 1979, Goodwin interned at the Leon County Sheriff’s Department — during Ted Bundy’s third and final death-penalty trial.
“Ted Bundy was spooky,” he said. “Very charming, very smart. … You could watch him and catch the darkness in his eyes and know there’s nothing there. That was part of Ted’s game, and I don’t think he ever realized that was really the end. I don’t think he cared.”
Goodwin was assigned to escort Bundy’s surviving victims in the elevator to the courtroom to testify.
“You don’t know what to say, and you don’t want to say the wrong thing. You want to tell them how brave they are, but you don’t know if that’s the right thing to say,” he said. “I’d probably do something different if I could go back.”
There was even a potential monster at ACC’s Littleton campus last year; student Austin Sigg stands accused of murdering 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway.
There was a bomb threat the same semester that shut down the campus.
“We were tested, but we also handled it well,” he said.
Somewhere is a monster Goodwin never could catch. Little Anthony Moya, 2, went missing from his home in Lakewood in 1989. Goodwin suspected a family member had committed foul play, but he could never prove it.
“We did all that searching. We worked that case for years, and never could get anyone to get past, ‘He must have just walked out the door,’” he said. “It’s been 20 years. How do you put something like that aside for so long?”
Sometimes what is thought to be a monster is really just a big misunderstanding, like the case of one mother who called police to report her toddler missing.
“As I’m talking to mom, I’m facing the back yard and I see some little legs sticking out of the doghouse. The child had curled up and gone to sleep with the dog,” he said. “You can get the helicopter up, but look in the cupboards first. Look in places kids would go. Don’t discount the bad things, but look in the obvious places and the not-so-obvious places first.”
Though he’s now retired from law enforcement, he’s come full circle from his days heading up the Lakewood Police Department’s crimes against children unit. He says he’s proud of his career and has no regrets.
“My motto is, ‘Do the right thing the right way for the right reasons.’ So I can look back and say I did that, and I will keep doing that.”