As the Littleton Police Department has re-evaluated its approach to domestic violence calls, the department has opened an internal investigation into an officer for allegedly failing to file an arrest warrant request in a domestic violence case last year.
Police Chief Doug Stephens informed the city council on Aug. 9 of the investigation during a presentation on the department’s domestic violence responses without naming the officer under investigation, who was identified by Denver7 as Cpl. Andrew Schmit.
Denver7 uncovered the incident after requesting Schmit’s records due to his involvement in a different domestic violence incident in January.
“It appears on its face that we may not have followed up where we needed to follow up, and we let a victim down,” Stephens said. “That’s what it appears like.”
Police department spokesman Cmdr. Trent Cooper did not respond to a request for comment on the internal investigation.
The police chief made the presentation to the council at the request of Councilmember Doug Clark, who did not respond to a request for comment.
Stephens said at the council meeting that Littleton Police Department completes a case-numbered report on any domestic violence call, whether an arrest occurs or not.
“Many other agencies do not do that,” said the former Denver Police Department captain.
But controversy ensued following scrutiny into the department’s response to the home of David Fallon and Christa Benton.
Early in the morning of Jan. 6, officers responded to the apartment where Benton lived with Fallon, her boyfriend, after Benton’s son called 911 to report that the couple was fighting. Officers responded but did not make an arrest. That afternoon, Benton and Fallon were both dead in an apparent murder-suicide perpetrated by Fallon, police said.
Stephens has said that officers did not find probable cause that a crime had occurred.
Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence spokeswoman Amy Pohl said that although Colorado is a “mandatory arrest” state for domestic violence, just like with any crime, an arrest cannot be made without probable cause that a crime occurred.
Domestic violence responses are complicated because police involvement can sometimes aggravate those situations, Pohl said.
In May, Tony Kovaleski’s story for Denver7 said that the police report written for that incident only consisted of one sentence, and that report was replaced with a longer one, with the original report being deleted from the department’s records system and not initially provided to Kovaleski in a public records request.
Stephens says that incident has changed the way the department responds to domestic violence incidents that do not result in arrests.
“It had been our practice to do like a one-line sentence on the narrative of those reports,” he said. “And that is, what happened, what did we see.”
Lydia Waligorski, public policy director for the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said there is no statewide guidance on how law enforcement agencies document incidents that do not result in arrests, but more detailed reports are helpful.
“There’s got to be some level of analysis on why this call happened,” she said.
Stephens said the policy has been changed to require more thorough documentation.
“I think it’s almost equally important to document the times in which we don’t make an arrest, especially in a domestic violence call, because it can come back later, as it did in this case,” he said. “And we want to make sure we can refer to these reports in the future.”
Mayor Bruce Beckman, a former Littleton police officer, said that he did not remember exactly how non-arrest domestic violence calls were handled during his time in law enforcement.
“Domestic violence is a serious issue,” he said.
Beckman had cited a lack of communication surrounding the Christa Benton case from former City Manager Michael Penny as one of his reasons for voting to fire Penny in June. He said that he feels the police chief is bringing a new level of transparency to the department.
“I think it’s a new day in Littleton,” he said.