by Dale Chappell
In October 2018, a warden who blew the whistle on an illegal hazardous-waste dumping scandal involving the head of Colorado’s prison system filed a lawsuit to compel the state to share the results of its investigations.
Angel Medina, former warden of the Cañon Minimum Centers – Arrowhead, Centennial and Four Mile correctional facilities in Cañon City – also filed a complaint with the State Personnel Board claiming retaliation because of his whistleblowing complaints.
The suit names as defendants Rick Raemisch, the executive director of Colorado’s Department of Corrections (DOC), former Governor John Hickenlooper and his chief legal counsel, Jacki Cooper Melmed, and director of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) John Camper.
Medina claimed that Raemisch engaged in official misconduct when he ordered two semi-trailer trucks loaded with Chaffee County’s hazardous electronic waste to be dumped on prison property without proper authorization. His suit alleges that Raemisch allowed the illegal dumping for “improper personal gain” as a favor to his hunting buddy Paul Moltz, a member of the Chaffee County Economic Development Council, as payback for enjoying the use of Moltz’s hunting cabin. The complaint further claims that Moltz is an investor in a private company that contracts with the DOC.
The illegal dumping began on December 6, 2017. Medina received a call from a guard at the prison gate, saying trucks were trying to enter the secured area to dump the waste. Medina called his boss, a prison director who reports to Raemisch. Medina was authorized to allow the dumping even though he was told no one was aware of any DOC agreement to do so. The Cañon City prison property is not registered as an authorized site for dumping hazardous waste.
Medina became suspicious and called the director of Correctional Industries – the DOC’s prison industry program – only to learn that Raemisch himself had authorized the dumping. Medina followed orders and allowed the trucks to offload their electronic waste – computers, cell phones, televisions – but also had his staff contact the DOC’s Office of the Inspector General, which investigates criminal conduct within the prison system, to report that “contraband” had been allowed on prison property.
One month later, in January 2018, Medina was transferred to the Fremont Correctional Facility – the first of three transfers within the next 10 months. In April 2018, Colorado’s Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division inspected the dumping site and concluded the DOC had violated the state’s Solid Waste Disposal Sites and Facilities Act. By that time five semi-trailer loads of electronic waste had been dumped at the prison, without either a permit or a plan to recycle the waste. The resulting cleanup cost taxpayers more than $100,000.
Yet when Medina filed a request for the CBI’s report through the Colorado Open Records Act, he said the state dragged its feet. Camper told Medina on May 30, 2018 that he would investigate the matter. The CBI report was sent to Governor Hickenlooper before July 10, 2018, but Medina was still waiting for a copy as of October.
“The Governor’s Office, Ms. Melmed [the governor’s chief legal counsel], and CBI have not made any statutory recognized objection to production of the records,” his lawsuit claims.
Connecting the dots between the waste dumping and his multiple subsequent transfers, Medina decided to sue. He is not seeking monetary damages, but rather wants to obtain the investigative records because he believes there was a cover up by DOC officials and that the public interest will be served by exposing the misconduct and cost of the clean-up.
“We have never promised a specific date for completion of the investigation, but will share the results of the investigation as soon as it is complete,” stated Shelby Wieman, spokeswoman for Hickenlooper and Melmed.
Medina’s lawsuit further alleges the DOC disciplined the director of Correctional Industries – who was demoted – and fired the department’s finance and administration director in 2018 when he also objected to the waste dumping after Medina began filing complaints with the Inspector General’s Office.
If Medina’s allegations are true, it would not be the first time Raemisch has misused his position. Earlier in 2018 he was verbally reprimanded for using a state vehicle to go hunting.
Sources: denverpost.com, koaa.com, kdvr.com
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