The Woodland Park Police Department is “an extremely toxic environment” filled with gender bias, harassment and intimidation, according to a report by a consulting firm.
Firing Chief Miles De Young was the only option to correct the “dire” state of the small mountain town’s police department, JEH Consulting said after several employees recounted intimidation tactics by the police chief that made many of them cry.
De Young retired last week following the investigation, which also found he had violated several workplace policies leading to a crisis within the town’s police department, according to JEH Consulting, which was hired by the city to investigate a complaint into his workplace conduct. The Colorado Sun obtained a copy of JEH Consulting’s report.
De Young’s retirement comes about three weeks after two of the department’s commanders were placed on administrative leave after they were interviewed as part of a separate criminal investigation launched by Teller County Sheriff’s Office in partnership with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
One of the commanders was Ryan Holzwarth, who was assigned to serve as the interim chief when De Young was placed on leave May 13. Two sergeants have been leading the department since Holzwarth was placed on leave.
The Sun was unable to reach De Young for a comment, but in an email sent to Woodland Park City Manager Michael Lawson before he retired, De Young called the investigation “incomplete, biased and unfair.” He said the report is part of “an effort to unfairly paint me as a person who engages in serial discrimination” and called the allegations leveled against him “baseless.”
“I was never interviewed or confronted with the vast majority of claims alleged in the report, nor allowed to respond to any of the ‘findings,’” DeYoung wrote in the email included in the report.
Woodland Park is a town of about 7,500 people that’s 20 miles west of Colorado Springs. Its police department has just 22 sworn officers, but in recent years the agency has handled major cases, including the death of Kelsey Berreth, a young mother who was murdered by her fiancé.
JEH Consulting found evidence that De Young intentionally intimidated his employees, retaliated against them and held grudges. Under his leadership, the report said, female employees were treated differently than their male counterparts, and referred to by the chief and commanders as “bitchy,” “opinionated” and “argumentative.”
The consulting firm interviewed 10 employees of the Woodland Park Police Department, including the entire command staff, people who filed complaints, witnesses to the alleged behavior and the town’s dispatch supervisor. A former sergeant was also interviewed.
Several employees told the consulting firm that De Young paced back and forth between his office and the rest of the department “hovering with an empty coffee cup,” and that he would not take any recommendations from his employees. Fearing retaliation, the department’s commanders didn’t challenge De Young, even when he was wrong, according to the report.
One employee told the consulting firm that the chief would “stare at them, give them the silent treatment and make it super uncomfortable,” causing a lot of people to cry.
De Young reportedly bragged about his time in the military and his training in psychological warfare, according to the report. A former sergeant said the chief would intentionally try to intimidate employees, referencing De Young’s “1,000-mile stare” he would use while questioning people, with his hands behind his head.
After the former sergeant told the chief that he found his behavior “extremely intimidating and uncomfortable,” the chief reportedly responded by saying, “I can’t help my face.”
A woman working at the department told the investigators the chief would purposely ignore employees who wronged him and that he stopped talking to her for two months over an issue that was not described in the report. The chief’s grudge caused her to lose sleep and brought stress and anxiety, forcing her to start using medications, the report said.
The former sergeant said it was common for the chief to retaliate against an employee by not approving time off or training requests. In its report, the consulting firm cited an instance when the chief extended a female officer’s probationary period after she refused a request to change a report she had written
The consultants also found a pattern of De Young focusing on a particular female employee’s work performance and “targeting” the officer. The consulting firm cited an example of when the female officer said she felt “harangued” by the chief for turning in case reports late when many male officers did so without being reprimanded.
Woodland Park announced De Young’s retirement last week.
“Our officers dedicate their lives to protecting our community every day,” Lawson, the city manager, said in a written statement. “They deserve to do so without having to live in fear of their own command staff. We cannot and will not tolerate gender bias or discrimination or harassment of any kind within our police department or city as a whole.”
De Young, who was appointed chief in 2015, was trained as a military police officer and a psychological warfare specialist through the U.S. Army Reserve and Minnesota Army National Guard, according to a now-deleted page of the city’s website. Prior to being chief for Woodland Park police, he had worked as patrol sergeant at three law enforcement agencies, as an emergency medical technician and as a wildland firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service.
Lawson said the city expects to hire a new interim chief in the next few weeks. The department’s commanders will be on leave until the criminal investigation is complete.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation is providing investigative assistance to the Teller County Sheriff’s Office in the criminal probe of personnel at the Woodland Park Police Department, but agency spokeswoman Susan Medina declined to provide more information. “It remains an active investigation,” she said Tuesday.
Lawson said that the “city knows little in the way of details on the CBI investigation.”
When De Young was placed on leave in May, Holzwarth, who was assigned interim chief, sent an email out to the Woodland Park Police Department’s officers trying to reassure them.
“The city manager and everyone has given us their support,” he wrote, according to emails obtained by The Sun through an open records request.
Less than a month later, Holzwarth was placed on leave as part of the joint investigation.