Chief of police in Basalt resigns 
after suspension

by Chad Abraham, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

After being placed on administrative leave in October for undisclosed reasons, Basalt’s police chief has resigned, according to a press release the town of Basalt sent on Monday.

Roderick O’Connor and town officials continued their refusal to discuss what led to the suspension and his resignation, which was effective as of Friday.

O’Connor, 63, said in an interview that he has no regrets about his time with the Basalt Police Department, which he had led since September 2010.

The workplace investigation of O’Connor, conducted by the Mountain State Employers Council, has concluded “without a finding or implication of misconduct of any kind,” says the release sent by town attorney Tom Smith. “Further, while matters related to employment are confidential and will be kept confidential, the parties do want to stress that the temporary suspension did not involve any investigation(s) into criminal law violations and/or civil rights violations.”

O’Connor was given an $83,994 severance package, according to Smith.

The press release describes the resignation as voluntary — done “without pressure or influence by the town” — and O’Connor said he is “leaving on my own terms.”

He declined comment when asked how he felt about his relationships with officers who served under him.

O’Connor’s suspension caused numerous people to write letters to the editor supporting him and decrying the town’s secrecy in handling the matter. He said he understands the frustration but that details on the investigation and his reasons for resigning “will have to come from somewhere else.

“I get that people are curious, but it’s just the way it’s going to be,” he said. “It’s a personnel matter, and [the secrecy] is meant to protect me, the town, everybody.”

He did say the suspension took him by surprise and that the past few weeks have “probably been the most challenging experience of my life so far.

“It was a personal decision on my part,” he said of resigning. “I left everything on the field, and I had nothing left to give.

“It was time for me to move on.”

O’Connor said he appreciated the supportive letters in local newspapers and phone calls he received at home.

O'Connor

“The community really gets what I’m about,” he said. “It shows I’m well-connected in the community and that I made positive relationships. It was a key part of my job.”

Town Councilor Karin Teague wrote in an email that she “always appreciated and enjoyed my interactions with Roderick ... and personally will miss him very much. I know others in the community will, as well.

“That being said, I didn’t work with him at the police department, so I’m not in a position to opine on the job he did there.”

Teague said she also understands the public’s frustration with the lack of information given to the public.

“I think it’s been frustrating for all of us, and as a result I would be open to re-examining how matters like this are handled in the future,” she said. “I hope the public understands, though, that personnel matters are handled carefully for all of the parties’ sake.”

Councilor Rick Stevens wrote that, “Unfortunately, the process is what it is. Perhaps this situation will cause more citizens to become more involved in their local government.”

And Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said simply that O’Connor is her friend and referred additional questions to Smith.

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said his department, which often provides and receives mutual aid from Basalt police officers, always had a good relationship with O’Connor.

O’Connor, a former patrol officer with the Aspen Police Department, “was always there for me,” DiSalvo said.

“I liked the way he ran his department and thought he was doing a good job,” he said. “He has the right law enforcement mentality and philosophy.”

O’Connor, a black belt in aikido who taught defensive tactics to the Roaring Fork Region Law Enforcement Group, said he isn’t sure what his next steps will be. He isn’t ruling out law enforcement.

“There’s a new piece of clay in front of me to make my imprint on,” he said. “Life is full of opportunities, and we’ll see what’s next.”

After suspending O’Connor with pay, the town appointed two sergeants, Penny Paxton and Stu Curry, as co-acting police chiefs to run the department of seven employees, six of which are officers. Smith said in an email that the process of finding a new police chief has not yet been identified.

chad@aspendailynews.com