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Police Union Says Manager Of Safety's Text Will Have 'Chilling Effect'

DENVER (CBS4) - The president of Denver's police union said Thursday he was "disappointed" but "not surprised" that Denver Manager of Safety Stephanie O'Malley tipped off a Denver firefighter that he was the subject of complaints from colleagues that led to a full blown internal investigation.

"I'm very disappointed to have learned that the director of safety would engage in such activities," said Nick Rogers, head of the Denver Police Protective Association which represents most Denver police officers. "If a patrolman had done the same thing he/she would be fired."

He was referring to a CBS4 investigation that found O'Malley used her cellphone to send a text message to Denver Fire Capt. Harold Johnson in October 2014 to let him know that he was in the crosshairs and was under scrutiny.

"Hey ... fyi," reads the text from O'Malley's cellphone to Johnson's. "Some in the station are complaining to Eric (Tade -- Denver Fire Chief) about you. Watch your back and be guarded with your tone -- comments."

Harold Johnson
Harold Johnson (credit: Tony Rivera)

Johnson told CBS4 he and O'Malley had been friends for several years and had been on at least one date. He said it was clear to him from the text message that O'Malley was providing him with inside information that he was the subject of a pending investigation.

Johnson was under fire in 2014 and would be the subject of an internal affairs probe partly dealing with his treatment of subordinates and colleagues. That investigation culminated with Johnson being terminated this week for 13 rule violations.

As Executive Director of the Department of Safety, O'Malley, daughter of former Mayor Wellington Webb, oversees the fire department and all other public safety agencies. CBS4 attempted to contact O'Malley but her spokesperson, Daelene Mix, initially said there would be no comment on the controversial text message.

"It would be inappropriate," said Mix, "for us as the employer to comment on details of the case."

Mix said O'Malley had recused herself from Johnson's disciplinary case due to their friendship. She said O'Malley was trying "to insure a fair and impartial disciplinary process."

However Thursday afternoon Mix agreed to provide more information on the relationship between O'Malley and Johnson and the text message.

"We have never dated or been romantically involved," reads a statement from O'Malley. "The text I sent him last October occurred over five months in advance of the investigation and findings that led to his termination. At that time he was recently promoted to captain and I wanted to raise his awareness that I had heard concerns about his conduct."

O'Malley has not answered questions from CBS4 about the appropriateness of her actions. Her spokesperson said she was out of town until Monday and unavailable for an interview.

But Rogers said it was clear O'Malley was using her position to share inside information with a friend.

"To me this is a major crossroads," said Rogers. "We speak of transparency for officers on the streets but that same transparency does not carry over to elected and appointed officials in the city. That's a problem."

The police union president went on to say that the manager of safety funneling information to a friend could have a broader impact.

"This could have a chilling effect on people being open and honest in future investigations," said Rogers, who said rank-and-file officers might be reluctant to share information or voice concerns if they felt that information would then be shared with the targets of official investigations.

The information that O'Malley was sharing inside information with Johnson has been known within the administration for months, but never emerged until the CBS4 expose'. In May of 2015, during a videotaped internal affairs interview of Capt. Johnson, investigators said to Johnson there were rumors that someone had called him to alert him that he was under investigation.

"I can't say," responded Johnson initially.

When told he had to respond he said he had been notified by Stephanie O'Malley.

"She just said there were ugly rumors going around. I think she texted me ... something to that effect," Johnson said during the closed-door meeting.

An investigator asked Johnson where O'Malley had heard about the investigation into Johnson.

"Did she say where she heard this?" asks the investigator.

"Chief Tade," responds Johnson.

The investigator then asked Johnson why O'Malley would call him. He said they were "friends" but that there was "nothing romantic."

Late Thursday, Mayor Michael Hancock released the following statement: "I trust that Stephanie conducted herself honestly and earnestly in this situation. Upon learning of the formal investigation of Mr. Johnson, she made their acquaintance known to the administration and recused herself from the decision- making process, which was the appropriate action to take."

Additional Resources

CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass has been with the station more than 30 years uncovering waste, fraud and corruption. Follow him on Twitter @Briancbs4.

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