DougCo zoning dispute morphs into record retention argument

Heather Willard

Heather Willard / NewsBreak Denver

(Douglas County, Colo.) A legal dispute over zoning violations morphed to include concerns about maintaining video security records at the Douglas County Courthouse.

According to court documents, the Douglas County Commissioners and Douglas County resident Renee Sweet met in court in October 2020 for six zoning violations issued by the county against a property in the 3600 block of Collins Street, an unincorporated area of Douglas County.

Sweet alleges that on March 19, 2021, she submitted a motion in-person to dismiss the violations and left the courtroom to object to the proceedings. According to the court’s record, the trial proceeded for approximately three hours, but someone turned off the court’s recording equipment for almost two hours that morning.

“The recording of the trial used for transcription contains a significant gap, omitting part of Michael Cairy's testimony and all of David Clements' testimony,” Sweet stated in a petition filed with the court on April 11. “This 'gap' is a two hour omission from a three hour trial.”

To help fill the gap in the record, Sweet filed Colorado Open Records Act requests with the Douglas County District Court and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office to produce security recordings of the courtroom proceedings.

However, each agency “passed the buck,” according to Sweet’s petition, and neither claimed to be the custodian of the security videos at the courthouse.

Currently, the zoning violations case is under review by the Colorado Court of Appeals. Sweet petitioned both the appeals and district courts to order the recordings be produced, saying the evidence for her case was not properly maintained. Both motions were denied with no comment.

“Turning off the (for the record) recorder is tantamount to shredding documents,” Sweet’s petition stated, further declaring the device had been turned off deliberately during the trial.

Sweet appealed to the Supreme Court of Colorado and was “promptly denied without comment,” according to a letter Sweet wrote on May 5 to the ACLU of Colorado, Westword, the Denver Post and Judicial Watch.

“The (sheriff’s office) has a duty under law to produce the security recording; the trial court has a duty under law to compel the (sheriff’s office) to produce the security recording; the (court of appeals) has a duty under law to compel the trial court to compel the (sheriff’s office) to produce the security recording; and the Colorado Supreme Court has a duty to compel the cascading lower courts to do their job and force the (sheriff’s office) to produce the said security recording,” Sweet wrote in her letter.

Sweet's April petition to show cause as to why the recordings cannot be provided remains the most recent filing in the case.

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Public safety reporter in DougCo, Denver metro. Previously: Pueblo Chieftain public safety reporter, Athens Messenger associate editor. Caffeine fiend, cat mom and lover of all things spooky.

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