Colorado Springs detective breaks with DA over charging driver with child abuse in crash
A Colorado Springs man on trial for hitting four children in a school crosswalk - pinning one under a rear wheel - has an unlikely advocate in his corner - the detective who investigated the crash.
In the latest friction between Colorado Springs police accident investigators and the El Paso County District Attorney's Office, a 15-year veteran officer is expected to take the stand on behalf of defendant Douglas Clubb, whose trial began Wednesday.
At issue is whether Clubb, 61, should have been charged with child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury as a result of criminal negligence - a felony count that Detective Jeffrey Rymer called "unheard of" in a traffic case.
Rymer, the lead investigator on the case, concluded the Jan. 12 crash was the result of miscommunication between Clubb and a school crossing guard. Although Rymer recommended traffic citations, he said criminal negligence wasn't a factor.
During a pretrial hearing Tuesday, Rymer told 4th Judicial District Judge Theresa Cisneros his findings put him at odds with prosecutors, who later excluded him from key investigative steps, then warned him he would face stiff cross-examination should he testify to his opinion under subpoena for the defense.
What he called threatening statements came during an Oct. 4 phone call from prosecutor Jak Pattamasaevi, who told Rymer his supervisors ordered the hardball approach.
"A lot of my bosses are unhappy that you put that paragraph at the end of your report," Pattamasaevi said, referring to what Rymer called a routine passage in which he renders his conclusion as to what caused the crash.
Rymer said he was taken aback by Pattamasaevi's pledge to "cross-examine (him) as hard as we can" if he elected to provide his findings under questioning.
"I think of it as going after me," Rymer said in his testimony on Tuesday. "I took it almost as a seek-and-destroy mission."
Cisneros flagged the prosecutor's statements as worrisome, but said they did not rise to the level of professional misconduct and did not merit a special prosecutor, as requested by the defense, which asked for the hearing. The judge also shot down requests to dismiss the case. Cisneros said she interpreted Pattamasaevi's comments as a professional courtesy, albeit inartfully rendered.
The District Attorney's Office removed Pattamasaevi from the case and assigned a different prosecutor in his place.
It's not uncommon for police and prosecutors to disagree on how to handle a case, but Rymer said he felt that prosecutors were pressuring him not to testify about his opinion. He said he lost sleep over fears there could be career implications, but that he resolved to answer any questions fully no matter what.
Rymer said he recorded the phone call from Pattamasaevi because he had just learned he would receive a subpoena from the defense, and anticipated there could be trouble.
Although Pattamasaevi didn't specify which "bosses" were unhappy, Rymer said he had been to prior meetings about the case with District Attorney Dan May and Chief Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Lindsey.
"I like Jak," Rymer told the court. "I think he was just following his marching orders."
During opening statements at Clubb's trial, prosecutors said Clubb should have seen the four children in the crosswalk, and that he seemed unconcerned after hitting them.
"Did you call an ambulance? Because I have places to be," Clubb said moments after the impact, as quoted by prosecutor Justin DeRosa.
The crash happened at 7:55 a.m., as three siblings and a cousin were crossing eastbound on the south side of Pikes Peak Avenue at Chelton Road, bound for James Monroe Elementary School. Clubb, stopped at a red light in the eastbound turn lane on Pikes Peak, hit all four after making make a right turn onto southbound Chelton Road.
Clubb told police that he believed the crossing guard was motioning him forward, and according to his public defender, Amanda Philipps, he smiled and waived at the woman as he made the turn, thinking she was letting him through as a courtesy. Philipps said Clubb was driving into the sun, and that the crossing guard was aware visibility is a problem for drivers at that time of day.
But prosecutors say multiple witnesses had a clear view of what happened and said the children were plainly visible in the crosswalk. Among the witnesses was David LeGrand, who pulled two children from under the front of Clubb's car and helped lift the four-door sedan off a young girl who was pinned under a rear passenger-side wheel.
The girl who was pinned suffered a skull fracture and lacerated liver, authorities said. She and the three other children have all since recovered.
Prosecutors said they do not intend to call Rymer.
Tension between Rymer and the District Attorney's Office comes seven months after a public clash involving a different Major Accident Unit investigator.
In that case, Detective Daniel Smoker concluded that Trevor Dierdorff, then-El Paso County Republican chairman, was "racing" another motorist for a downtown parking spot last March when he fatally struck a pedestrian while backing up in the northbound lane of Tejon Street. May, a prominent Republican, dismissed Dierdorff's traffic citation for careless driving resulting in death, saying the victim was jaywalking and that Dierdorff had the right-of-way. Dierdorff stepped down from his party leadership post in September, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.
Lee Richards, a spokeswoman for May, said the office had no comment when asked about prosecutors' relations with the unit's detectives.
Clubb's trial is expected to continue Thursday.