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City Flip Flops On Parking Tickets

Written by Brian Maass
DENVER (CBS4) - The city of Denver has offered dramatically different opinions on the validity of parking tickets issued by unauthorized vehicle control agents, according to documents obtained by CBS4.

The revelation comes as CBS4 found another "vehicle control agent" who was booting cars and writing tickets in Denver without legal authorization.

A CBS4 investigation last week revealed that about 31,000 parking tickets were issued in 2009 and 2010 by two Denver vehicle control agents, Bill Shirland and Paul Lucero. But the CBS4 probe found that Lucero never was appointed as a "special police officer" by Denver's manager of safety but wrote tickets anyway, and Shirland's authorization to write tickets expired in 2009. But he was sent out to continue writing tickets for the next two years.

Legal documents from the city show that to write valid parking tickets, vehicle control agents must have legal authorization.

Both vehicle control agents have now been reassigned to other positions that do not involve writing tickets.

After examining the issue, the Denver city attorney's office released a written statement last Thursday:

"The vehicle control agents in question had authority to issue parking citations as part of their official duties as employees of the City of Denver by ordinance. Additionally, after a citation is paid, each case is permanently closed and is not subject to reversal. Denver Public Works Right of Way Enforcement will adhere to this opinion and no refunds will be issued for the citations in question."

The city has refused to elaborate on that statement or answer any questions about its reasoning.

But CBS4 has found that just four months ago, the city insisted that its vehicle control agents had to have current, valid, special police authority, conferred by Denver's manager of safety, to issue tickets.

The city fired vehicle control agents Eric Madril and John Culhane in December 2010, accusing the pair of on-the-job misconduct. In termination documents, the city repeatedly wrote that the agents' special police officer licenses had been revoked, making them ineligible to write parking tickets.

In one document terminating Madril and Culhane, the city wrote,"Vehicle control agents must hold a valid special officer license in order to issue citations. Without a special officer license, (Madril/Culhane) no longer possessed the legal right to issue citations, an essential function of his position."

And in a letter to Madril dated Dec. 7, 2010, the city wrote, "... due to the revocation of your special police officer license which disqualifies you as a Right of Way Enforcement Agent 1, the decision has been made that you are disqualified from performing the essential functions of your position and that we must terminate your employment."

Gary Pirosko, a Denver attorney, reviewed what the city said in firing Madril and Culhane in 2010 compared to what the city said just last week.

"Either the city attorney's right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing, or the city attorney crossed his fingers hoping that the curtain wouldn't be pulled back," Pirosko said. "These are diametrically opposed legal positions with no justifiable explanation.  The city attorney has placed the city in a legal bind; repay the citizens for the illegal actions of two non-commissioned agents, or be subject to a potential retaliatory lawsuit for wrongful termination of the two commissioned agents. The termination cites definitive legal authority. The explanation for not returning the citizen's money conveniently and conspicuously lacks specific legal authority."

Mike O'Malley, a labor lawyer representing Madril and Culhane in their fight with the city, says the city is flip-flopping on the authorization needed to write parking tickets in Denver.

"Now what they're saying is, 'You don't need a badge.' There's some sort of inconsistency of coherent policy and procedures to the point they are incoherent," O'Malley said.

O'Malley said the statements issued by the city four months ago are "diametrically opposed" to what the city said last week about the need for legal authorization to write valid parking tickets.

Denver Public Works issued the following statement Tuesday afternoon:

"The City Attorney's Office has advised us that neither the City Charter nor any ordinance specifically requires special police appointment for employees who are assigned to enforce parking regulations. It follows that citations issued by Public Works employees are valid regardless of whether they have a special police appointment. Nevertheless, it has been Public Works' policy that Vehicle Control Agents (VCA's) need special police appointment as a qualification for employment. We acknowledge that we have not fully monitored or consistently applied this policy and therefore some VCA's have issued citations prior to receiving their special police appointment or during periods when their special police appointment has lapsed. This policy and its procedures for checking policy compliance are under review and we are committed to improving the monitoring system. Affirmative revocation of an appointment which results in the disqualification of a person from continued employment based on serious misconduct, as in the case of Madril and Culhane, is fundamentally different from the temporary lapsing of appointment based on paperwork processing gaps."

At the same time, CBS4 has found a third vehicle control agent who was taking police actions, booting cars and writing tickets, even though his legal authorization to do so had lapsed. Julian Gomez is a vehicle control agent with Public Works Right of Way Enforcement Division. Sources familiar with Gomez say his primary duty is immobilizing cars using the Denver boot. But an examination of Gomez's authorization as a special police officer shows some wide gaps.

Denver's manager of safety and chief of police signed authorization for Gomez on Dec. 29, 2003, authorizing him as a "booter" and special police officer. That authorization expired Oct. 1, 2005. But it would be another three months before the city provided Gomez with another valid authorization. His next permit to act as a special police officer was signed Jan. 31, 2006.

His 2006 authorization expired Feb. 1, 2009, according to city records. But again, those records show his special police authority had expired and was not renewed until at least Sept. 3, 2009 -- a seven month gap.

The Public Works Department and mayor's office declined repeated requests to talk on camera about Gomez booting or handing out tickets without legal authorization. But late Tuesday afternoon, Daelene Mix, a spokesperson for the Denver Public Works Department, released a statement that acknowledged Gomez was writing tickets and booting cars after his authorization had expired, but she said it didn't really matter.

"Specifically regarding enforcement actions taken by Julian Gomez while his special police appointment had lapsed, it is the position of Public Works and the City Attorney's Office that this technicality did not invalidate those actions, which were taken as part of his official duties as a vehicle boot investigator and authorized by city ordinance. Further, once the associated fee or fine is paid, each case is permanently closed and is not subject to reversal," she said in the statement.

Additional Resources:

View city documents terminating Vehicle Control Agents Madril and Culhane clearly stating the city position that vehicle control agents must have current, legal authorization as special police officers to write tickets.

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