Rocky Ford, catalyst for overhaul to Colorado law on police hiring, fails to follow new rules

The town of Rocky Ford, which became a catalyst two years ago for overhauling Colorado’s laws on police hiring after one of its officers fatally shot an unarmed man in the back, reversed the hiring of a new officer this week amid concerns it violated the new law.

Police Chief Mickey Bethel said his department failed to adhere to the new law’s requirements. Bethel said that before making the recent hire he did not review the officer’s personnel records at a police agency that had fired the officer. The 2016 overhaul to state law on police hiring made such reviews of previous employment records a strict requirement for all police agencies.

“We didn’t have the information about him like we should have,” Bethel said. “I brought him on. Ultimately, it is on my shoulders.”

Bethel pledged two years ago to improve his department after controversy over Rocky Ford’s hiring of former police Officer James Ashby, convicted of second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of 27-year-old Jack Jacquez.

Bethel said he will conduct a review to determine if other hiring mistakes have been made.

A more careful pre-employment screening would have revealed Troy Morgan, hired in June to conduct police patrols, was fired in March from the Fowler Police Department after eight months on the job for safety violations, allegedly sexually harassing women, incorrect paperwork and unsafe control of a prisoner.

Morgan told one woman in Fowler “she owes him one” after he let her go without citing her for failing to stop at a stop sign, according to his termination letter. A waitress also said he inappropriately talked about how slender she was while almost placing his hands on her hips. Morgan also ignored the Fowler department’s protocols and pursued a man driving a stolen vehicle on the wrong side of a highway, endangering other drivers, the termination letter states.

“In your short tenure with the Fowler Police Department you have continued to demonstrate that you are either unwilling to learn or abide by the policies of the department,” Fowler Police Chief Jacob Freidenberger wrote in the letter to Morgan informing him of his firing.

Bethel forced Morgan to resign Monday, within weeks of his hiring. Bethel said he knew Morgan had been fired in Fowler, but Morgan said during his interview that he had been unfairly retaliated against. Bethel said he decided to get a copy of Morgan’s termination letter from Fowler police after The Denver Post began probing. He said he found issues Morgan couldn’t clear up.

Bethel said he hired Morgan in part because he had worked before on the Rocky Ford police force. Morgan worked there from 2015 to 2017 before resigning.

Employment records show that during his previous tenure in Rocky Ford, Morgan accrued about a dozen policy violations for failing to use his body camera, pointing his service revolver at a citizen without justification, failing to show up for a trial where he was a witness and for a pattern of failing to complete his police reports on time. One of his fellow officers in Rocky Ford, complained to supervisors in 2017, “How long is it going to be before he gets one of us killed?” employment records show.

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