A prison warden who claims he was transferred in retaliation for blowing the whistle on Colorado’s corrections chief for ordering truckloads of electrical waste be dumped on prison property has sued the state seeking a copy of an investigative report on the matter.
The civil lawsuit filed Tuesday in Denver District Court by Angel Medina alleges Rick Raemisch, executive director of Colorado’s Department of Corrections, ordered two semitrailer loads of Chaffee County’s electrical waste be dumped and stored on property at the Cañon City prison complex — potentially as a personal favor to a hunting buddy who sits on the Chaffee County Economic Development Council.
The state is now paying to clean up the site where the electronic equipment was dumped because the disposal was in violation of Colorado environmental laws, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit names Gov. John Hickenlooper, his chief legal counsel, Jacki Cooper Melmed, and John Camper, director of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, as defendants.
“We have never promised a specific date for completion of the investigation, but will share the results of the investigation as soon as it is complete,” Shelby Wieman, spokeswoman for Hickenlooper and Melmed, wrote in an e-mail to The Denver Post on Friday.
Raemisch did not respond to requests for comment Thursday and Friday.
The lawsuit accuses Raemisch of a possible conflict of interest, official “misconduct” and “improper personal gain.” It says Raemisch’s administration transferred Medina — a whistleblower — in retaliation for his complaints about the Chaffee County electrical waste being dumped on prison property. The Colorado Department of Corrections paid the county a “nominal fee” as part of the waste disposal program, according to the lawsuit.
It also claims two other officials who objected to the disposal program were subsequently disciplined. The director of Correctional Industries, which runs prisoner work programs at the Department of Corrections, was pressured into taking a demotion, and the department’s finance and administration director was fired in 2018, but only after Medina began making complaints to the Inspector General’s Office, the lawsuit says.
Camper, the CBI director, told Medina on May 30 that his office would conduct an investigation. The report was sent to Hickenlooper’s office prior to July 10. Medina’s numerous subsequent requests to see the report repeatedly have been denied in violation of the state’s open records law, the lawsuit alleges.
Problems over the little-known trash-related “pilot program” began on Dec. 6 when Medina, then warden of the Colorado Minimum Center in Cañon City, received a call from the security gate. Staff told him that two semitrailers loaded with electronic disposal waste were trying to enter the prison complex without proper clearance or authority, the lawsuit says.
Medina called his boss, one of the Department of Corrections prison directors, who told him that neither he nor the department’s director of prisons knew anything about the waste. When he called the director of Correctional Industries, Medina learned that Raemisch had authorized taking the waste to the prison complex, the lawsuit says.
After learning that the prison chief had authorized bringing the waste onto the property, Medina approved allowing the drivers to go onto the prison property. But prison staff called the Office of the Inspector General, which conducts criminal investigations within the prison system, and reported the mass introduction of “contraband” onto prison property.
Medina would later learn that Raemisch was a personal friend of Paul Moltz, a member of the Chaffee County Economic Development Council. It was rumored that Raemisch was Moltz’s hunting buddy and “had enjoyed access to Mr. Moltz’s private land and cabin for hunting and personal enjoyment,” the lawsuit says.
Moltz has invested in a company that conducts business with the Colorado Department of Corrections, extracting sand and gravel from state prison property in Buena Vista, the lawsuit says.
“The tie between Mr. Raemisch and Mr. Moltz led Mr. Medina to believe that the electronic waste disposal program was part of a payback being done for personal gain and favoritism by the executive director,” the lawsuit states.
In a series of four reports in December, Medina stated his objections to bringing the waste onto prison property. In January, Medina was transferred to the Fremont Correctional Facility in the same prison complex, the lawsuit states.
“Mr. Medina then investigated the legality of what the department was doing and determined that the actions were in violation or potential violation of state environmental laws,” the lawsuit states.
On April 5, Colorado’s Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division inspected the electronic waste and determined that the Department of Corrections was in violation of state environmental statutes and regulations, the lawsuit states.