COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- From law enforcement breaking policy, contractors skipping out on the job, to even UFOs up in the sky - the people of Southern Colorado continue to come to 13 Investigates when they need help.
On the last day of 2021, 13 Investigates is taking a look back at the biggest stories from this year to see which KRDO investigations made the greatest impact on our community.
Vaccine Shortfall in El Paso County
Towards the beginning of the year, 13 Investigates learned El Paso County wasn't receiving the same proportion of COVID-19 supplies. That resulted in seniors across the Colorado Springs area waiting for their turn to get a vaccine.
At the time of our report in February, El Paso County, which is the second-most populated county in Colorado and accounted for 12.4% of the state's population, only received about 8.2% of the total vaccines distributed in the state went to the Colorado Springs area, according to data provided by the state.
"With the lack of equitable supplies from the state, this puts us at a disadvantage compared to many other counties,” said El Paso County Department of Public Health Director Susan Wheelan in a statement to KRDO.
Following 13 Investigates' story, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said after a COVID-19 vaccine shortfall in El Paso County, state officials, including Governor Jared Polis, were on the same page about the discrepancy. From there, about 25,000 vaccine doses were sent to the county.
Previously, the Governor's office said that they would send more vaccines after El Paso County administered the thousands of doses sitting on shelves that providers had.
"There are no inventory issues in El Paso County, and I think we've convinced the Governor of that fact. I'm very pleased that he's made a commitment to make up for any shortage that El Paso County has had, and that's being reflected this week," Suthers said in March.
Failure to Protect: Pueblo County's Foster Care System
Initially sparked on by the death of 15-month old foster child Aiden Seeley, 13 Investigates found consistent policy violations within the Pueblo County Department of Human Services in child death and abuse cases - leaving some of society's most vulnerable children without the advocate they deserve.
Seeley was allegedly murdered and tortured after being in the Pueblo DHS foster care system for less than two months in 2020. 13 Investigates analyzed five Colorado Department of Human Services investigations of egregious child abuse and death cases in the Pueblo County DHS system between 2009 to 2017. In those five cases alone, the state found 24 times when Pueblo DHS failed to follow its policies meant to protect vulnerable children from abuse.
"This is an issue that can no longer lay in the shadows anymore in our community," said Richard Orona - the attorney for Seeley's parents. "And at some point, enough's enough."
In May, the leader of the Pueblo Department of Human Services (DHS), Tim Hart, submitted his resignation 10 weeks before his planned retirement. Hart's resignation came after 13 Investigates began asking questions about systemic issues inside the Pueblo DHS foster care system following Seeley's death.
Concealed Records: Woodland Park Police Department
In July, 13 Investigates discovered officers with the Woodland Park Police Department failed to call mental health resources, like they typically do, which resulted in the death of an Army veteran. After his death, leadership within the police department allegedly concealed the records telling the full story.
According to police reports obtained by 13 Investigates, Woodland Park officers went to the home of 29-year old Army veteran Jeremy Mitchell around 8 p.m. on December 23, 2020. Records show when Jeremy’s wife answered the door, she told them Jeremy would be mad if he found out they were there. The initial police report says Sgt. Mike McDaniel called Commander Andy Leibbrand while outside Jeremy’s house. He told him Jeremy was drinking, yelling, possibly damaging stuff in the home, and could be suicidal with a gun.
Leibbrand agreed to leave Jeremy alone and directed McDaniel to leave the scene, according to police records. Despite numerous calls from friends and family pleading with WPPD to check in on him, officers failed to call mental health resources. The body of the young veteran was found by his wife just before 9 a.m. the morning of Christmas Eve. Jeremy had died by suicide.
13 Investigates learned the Woodland Park Police Department’s response to Jeremy’s welfare check didn't align with their typical response to these calls. Mental health medics were never called to Jeremy's home that night.
Our team uncovered police audit records showing Commander Leibbrand changed the status of a police report to keep it hidden from Jeremy's family.
"I'm extremely upset. I'm very upset for my kids,” said Jessica Mitchell - the mother of Jeremy's child. “We have Jeremy, who was in the military and sacrificed a lot for this country only to have the local police department fail him."
Following the 13 Investigates report, Commander Andy Leibbrand and Sgt. Mike McDaniel were both officially terminated after a third-party investigation found they neglected their duty in how they handled the welfare check for Mitchell.
Allegations against Pueblo Police Chief Steven 'Chris' Noeller
Just weeks before his appointment as the acting police chief to the Pueblo Police Department, 13 Investigates learned he was under investigation for allegations of racial discrimination and intimidation of his officers.
According to a summary of the investigation obtained by 13 Investigates, Denver-based law firm Hoffman, Parker, Wilson, & Carberry investigated Steven 'Chris' Noeller. The documents show that from 2018 to 2020, ten complaints were filed by Pueblo police officers against then-Deputy Chief Noeller. The law firm's April investigation noted, "Deputy Chief Noeller's supervision and leadership style is, at a minimum, divisive."
The report concluded there is no evidence of federal civil rights violations or actionable discrimination claims caused by Deputy Chief Noeller’s conduct. However, investigators did find Noeller's conduct violated the City of Pueblo Employee Handbook of General Regulations and the Pueblo Police Department Policy Manual.
Acting Chief Noeller became Pueblo’s permanent chief in June. The full investigatory remains concealed due to the investigation involving a personnel matter.
"The boss might not always be right, but the boss is always the boss, and I think they need to learn that," said Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar when he was asked about the Pueblo police officers that brought forth allegations. "You don't have to like it, but you have to work for him. Obviously, if anything illegal is happening, which was thoroughly investigated and determined not to have been happening, it'll be dealt with. So, they're just gonna have to either figure out how they're going to get along with the Chief or decide they're gonna go somewhere else."
Penrose Lumber Specialties and Troy Rogers
A family in Black Forest is out more than $59,000 after a contractor they hired to build a garage on their property quit in the middle of the project.
In August of 2020, Jim Thompson hired Troy Rogers and Penrose Lumber Specialities to build a 40'x40'x14' tall detached garage on his property by Thanksgiving. However, Thompson hadn't heard from the crew hired on to complete the project in months.
"Now it looks like it's probably going to cost me another 28, 29-thousand dollars to complete it," Thompson told 13 Investigates.
13 Investigates discovered neither Penrose Lumber Specialties nor Troy Rogers had the proper contractor's license to do the work. On top of that, Rogers never applied for a permit to build the garage on Thompson's property. While investigating Troy Rogers and Penrose Lumber Specialties, 13 Investigates discovered that Rogers pleaded guilty to felony-level theft in Routt County back in 2017.
13 Investigates spoke with Troy Rogers outside of his Colorado Springs home to see if he plans on finishing the garage on Thompson's property.
"I resigned off that job," said Rogers. "I told (Thompson) I resigned off of it. He kept changing the scope of work. The money wasn't there anymore. I actually lost a couple of subcontractors over it. It's always been about trying to help them, to help other people. It just didn't work out for me. I couldn't do it."
Court records show two separate lawsuits were filed against Rogers in 2021 - one of those suits was filed by the Thompsons.
Hiding in Plain Sight - Illicit Spas in Colorado Springs
After two years of 13 Investigates reporting on the nearly three dozen illicit massage businesses with ties to human trafficking operating in the greater Colorado Springs area, City Council finally agreed to look at a way to shut them down in April.
During a special council meeting, Commander Scott Whittington with the Metro Vice division acknowledged directly, "We believe human trafficking is occurring in these businesses, absolutely."
"We've got to admit that when KRDO is more effective in shutting these places down than the police department," said Colorado Springs City Councilman Bill Murray. "We've got to start looking at the bigger picture of things."
If you have an issue and want the 13 Investigates team's help, email us at 13Investigates@krdo.com.