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Sheriff Smith hires controversial former Florence Police Chief

Former Chief DeLaurentis retired during a time when he and a former city manager were accused of sexual harassment and a subsequent failed legal settlement cover-up

(Originally published 04.11.24)

Custer County Sheriff Rich Smith confirmed this past week that he has hired the controversial former Florence Police Chief Michael DeLaurentis to work part-time in a newly created position, “Chief of Staff.” Smith and DeLaurentis are former colleagues who worked in the same building in Florence that housed both the State Patrol Office, where Smith worked, and the Florence Police Department.

In August of 2021, the board of trustees for the City of Florence suddenly fired their City Manager, Mike Patter- son, after it was discovered that he had tried to cover up a sexual harassment and wrongful termination settlement of $102,362.88 and included allegations that he and the former Police Chief Michael DeLaurentis had engaged in continued sexual harassment of a new employee in 2019. City Manager Patterson and Mayor Keith Ore had hidden the payment and a report from the city insurance co-op Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency (CIRSA) that recommended that Patterson be fired.

By late 2021, more women had stepped forward and claimed they had been sexually harassed by Patterson, a convicted felon, for years, while two different mayors had ignored their calls for help. Over the next six months, the city trustees discovered missing money from town accounts, interest-free loans given to former Police Chief DeLaurentis that went against city policy, and other previously unknown legal costs and settlements with people who claimed police brutality against DeLaurentis and members of his staff. Council members tried to piece together what had taken place, but by March 2022, the six members of the board of trustees resigned, leaving only the Mayor to answer questions as more scandals surfaced.

Some of the lawsuits against the city of Florence are still ongoing, but as of this writing, the city of Florence and CIRSA have paid out a total of $571,996 to cover settlement payments to victims and legal costs, with more settlement payments possible in the next several years. On January 12, 2023, Mike Patterson pleaded guilty to harassment and providing alcohol to a minor after he entered a plea deal with the District Attorney’s Office under Linda Stanley. He was sentenced to two years probation.

While most of the attention, as the scandal in Florence unfolded, rightfully focused on the actions of former City Manager Mike Patterson, records show that the settlements that had been swept under the rug by Patterson and the Mayor also involved Police Chief Michael DeLaurentis.

DeLaurentis is a lifelong peace officer who served 27 years in the Chicago suburbs before retiring and moving to Colorado in 2006. In 2008, he joined the Florence Police Department and, by 2012, was named Chief of Police. He retired in September 2019, stating he had to undergo back surgery. While this may be true, he also announced his retirement as the city of Florence, and CIRSA was in the process of paying $230,359.36 in settlements/legal costs for allegations against DeLaurentis or his staff.

The first was a settlement and legal costs for police brutality in a civil lawsuit filed against DeLaurentis when the plaintiff claimed a police sergeant had set a police dog on him in 2014. CIRSA records show that the costs/settlement amounted to $62,617 and closed on May 5, 2019. Another case shows settlement/costs of $65,379.42 and closed on October 28, 2019.

But the most significant payment of $102,362.88 was to settle a claim of sexual harassment against Patterson and DeLaurentis that was brought by Tammy Kibler on June 12, 2019. In a letter addressed to Mayor Keith Ore, attorney Andrew Swan laid out the disturbing series of events that had taken place in the first four months of Kibler’s employment as City Clerk and Human Resources Manager. The letter points out that Patterson was a convicted felon who had pleaded guilty to felony assault against his then-wife in 2009 and was terminated from his job as City Manager in Oregon. Yet, the City of Florence hired him by April 2012, and one of the first things he did was promote Michael DeLaurentis to Chief of Police.

The letter to the Florence Mayor continues, “Mr. Patterson, a convicted felon, frequently sexually harassed Ms.

Kibler, despite her multiple complaints about him. Other employees, including Chief Mike DeLaurentis, also harassed Ms. Kibler. Some of this harassment took place in the presence of City officials, including yourself. In response, you and your colleagues did nothing.” When Kibler brought the text messages Patterson had sent her to the Mayor, she was fired the next day for “failure to meet performance objectives of the job.” The letter states further that “Mr. Patterson was not the only City employee to make degrading sexual comments to Ms. Kibler. At a lunch for the retirement of a member of City Council at Ito’s Japanese Steakhouse, Florence Chief Mike DeLaurentis loudly stated, “Okay, guys, we need to do Tammy as a group,” implying that the men present should take turns having sex with Ms. Kibler. The men understood Chief DeLaurentis’s crude and demeaning comment and laughed at it. You were present at this meeting, as were Mr. Patterson and other high-ranking City employees. Yet nothing was done. Perhaps such comments are simply par for the course within the City Government?”

Patterson and CIRSA agreed to settle with Kibler immediately before a lawsuit was filed with the courts.

With nearly a quarter of a million dollars of lawsuits being settled or finalized involving DeLaurentis, he retired in September of 2019. Yet less than two years later, as the various scandals finally got the attention of the town council members, it was revealed that several staff members of Florence, including DeLaurentis, had taken interest-free loans from the city for personal use. According to documents from the City of Florence, Mike DeLaurentis accepted $42,000 in interest-free loans from City Manager Mike Patterson, which went against city policy. In a statement to KRDO Channel 13, which had uncovered the loans and the wrongful termination hidden settlement, DeLaurentis said, “‘Everything was approved by Mike Patterson, and Patterson told him it was allowed by city policy.’ In part, DeLaurentis said he used at least some of the money for personal housework.” Records show that the money was paid back before DeLaurentis’s retirement.

While Custer County Sheriff Smith stated to the Tribune that DeLaurentis was not found guilty of any crimes after an investigation by various law enforcement agencies, it is not clear from the records that any investigation into DeLaurentis was actually fully attempted. The Florence Town Council asked the new Police Chief Shane Prickett, who had worked under DeLaurentis for the previous nine years, to open an investigation into DeLaurentis’s severance package in 2022. However, the Tribune has not been able to find any record of an investigation or the result of that investigation. Florence Police Officer Mike Ingle reached out to Pueblo Police requesting assistance, but the Pueblo Police declined.

This lack of investigation seems to have been met with joy from Officer Ingle, who stated in an email to Chief Shane Prickett, “This is an option that I think would alleviate you, me, Sean, Jeff, Alex, whomever, from having to develop a case against a former Florence Chief.” Ingle continues, “Its fun being the Chief huh? You and Sean will be sharing a laugh about all this someday when you are both sitting on the porch in your rocking chairs, sharing some of Sean’s expensive whiskey collection!”

On March 17, 2023, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) confirmed to KRDO that they had not received a request from Florence Chief Shane Prickett to help investigate despite the town trustees ordering an investigation. However, previous Colorado Open Record Act (CORA) requests to the District Attorney’s Office and the CBI show that there is still an active investigation into DeLaurentis, but no details are provided.

Further, executive sessions tapes that were released in March of 2022 show city council members trying to understand how much DeLaurentis and Prickett knew about the other sexual harassment allegations that were being made public and also other issues such as an evidence room in disorder, misuse of federal funds and more. From the recording, it is clear that the council are concerned about the last decade of issues with the department. “From what they, what they explained to us said that it’s ten year’s worth of evidence that needs to be redone. And that’s

where, that’s where the need for it was,” explained one council member. In another meeting, a council member stated that the Defense Reutilization Marketing Office (DRMO) that grants military-grade weapons to local law enforcement had been “corrupt” under DeLaurentis. “And like I did with the DRMO or whatever that program is, that has been so corrupted. Mike did his whole business with it.” Shane Prickett states in the executive session, “But it’s [not corrupt] anymore, and we have fixed that.”

However, the damage seemed to be already done, and in April 2022, the Florence Police Department was suspended from the equipment program when it failed a surprise audit, and the department could not provide evi- dence that it still possessed $7,000 worth of equipment. It is not clear if the suspension is still in effect.

The Tribune is still requesting documents from various organizations and will continue to share new details as they emerge. In addition, DeLaurentis is just one of several former colleagues of Sheriff Smith in Florence who has been hired in Custer County, which includes the Undersheriff. Next week, we will report on Undersheriff Susan Barnes and how three out of four members of the Sheriff’s office, with one on administrative duty, have been fired after they filed Human Resource complaints against her in 2022.

Sheriff Smith’s response can be found on page five.

– Jordan Hedberg

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