Charges that Englewood City Councilmember Laurett Barrentine harassed the city clerk and caused a disturbance after a council meeting in August have been dismissed, according to a letter from the …
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Charges that Englewood City Councilmember Laurett Barrentine harassed the city clerk and caused a disturbance after a council meeting in August have been dismissed, according to a letter from the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office.
“Our job is only to assess whether there is sufficient evidence to go to trial, not to render judgments on whether any citizen's behavior is appropriate or professional,” Brian Sugioka, chief deputy district attorney, wrote in an April 12 letter to the Englewood Police Department.
Barrentine had been charged with harassment and disorderly conduct for an incident alleged to have occurred Aug. 27 after a study session, a public city council meeting at the Englewood Civic Center.
Details about the incident had not previously been made public because the police report was considered evidence not available for public release in an open case, according to the DA's office.
Barrentine said the DA's office saw through "contradicting statements," and she said she "handled a difficult situation with the professionalism our citizens expect."
"I have no doubt continued attempts will be made to silence me," Barrentine said. "But Englewood, our community, is worth fighting for and I am up for the challenge."
The letter detailed an account of the incident from the police report and the DA office's investigation.
In dismissing the case, the DA's office cited that it's difficult to conclude from witness accounts that Barrentine raised her voice to an “unreasonable” level or had a “conscious goal of 'harassing, annoying, or alarming'” the clerk.
Dispute over records
During the Aug. 27 meeting, Barrentine asked if records of an executive session of the council — a closed-door meeting often used to discuss matters the city deems to require confidentiality — had been destroyed.
A voice that appears to be that of City Clerk Stephanie Carlile, not pictured in the recording of the Aug. 27 meeting, can be heard telling Barrentine that records are destroyed every 90 days, the video of the meeting shows. The clerk's office said in October that the meeting Barrentine referred to occurred May 7.
“There was a protest made at the time of it,” Barrentine told Carlile, claiming records aren't to be destroyed if a protest is made. The clerk's office clarified in October that treating a certain executive session differently from others would require more than one councilmember's statement, referring to state statute 24-72-204 (5.5) (a).
According to the DA's letter, after the August meeting ended, Barrentine approached Carlile at her table in the meeting room and continued to raise the issue, Carlile said to police.
“Barrentine then came around the table and got 'right in the face'” of Carlile, according to her account. Carlile “described herself as feeling physically 'trapped' by Barrentine. Barrentine's voice was described as 'raised.'”
Carlile said Barrentine turned away and turned back quickly, leading Carlile to believe she was about to be struck, the letter read. She said Barrentine “quickly and unexpectedly” grabbed her arm, according to the letter.
Carlile described herself as “scared,” “shocked” and “upset” and was described as crying while recounting the events to law enforcement, the letter said.
City Attorney Alison McKenney Brown said Carlile was “clearly intimidated,” and Mayor Linda Olson described the incident as “emotional bullying,” according to the letter. They and another city employee echoed parts of Carlile's account, the letter said.
Councilmembers Othoniel Sierra and Cheryl Wink said they witnessed part of the incident upon returning to the room and said Barrentine was “physically, verbally and emotionally agitated,” according to the letter.
When a DA's investigator interviewed Carlile again, she recounted the events the same way but said Barrentine did not apply pressure or cause her to feel pain.
But Carlile's and the witnesses' accounts support a conclusion that Barrentine didn't use profane language or gestures, and no one described her volume as being excessive, the letter read.
“To the contrary, at least one witness described Barrentine's voice as 'low,'” it added, saying Barrentine's alleged conduct would not qualify as disorderly conduct for those reasons.
It's reasonable to interpret Barrentine's touching of Carlile's arm “as part of the goal of getting (her) attention and expressing dissatisfaction,” but it's “harder to conclude that the defendant would have had a conscious goal of 'harassing, annoying or alarming'” Carlile, the letter read.
The events reportedly resulted in Carlile being shaken, the letter read, but "the victim's emotional state as a result of Barrentine's alleged behavior, no matter how reasonable it was for the victim to feel that way, is not an element of the crime of harassment.”
Executive sessions a focus
A memorandum from the city attorney to the council Aug. 28 said executive-session recordings are maintained for 90 days unless the city receives a formal notice of intent to pursue legal action.
In another recent incident, Barrentine reportedly yelled at Wink, the councilmember, and followed her into a lobby from the city council meeting chambers on May 7, according to an Englewood police report.
According to that report, Wink said that at a council meeting that night, she mentioned “concerns from citizens in the community” about Barrentine, in a “special session meeting,” a likely reference to the May 7 executive session. At the Aug. 27 meeting, Barrentine raised the issue of whether conduct in that executive session was inappropriate.
In the May 7 meeting, Barrentine became upset and yelled that no one had told her the things Wink mentioned, eventually following Wink out of the room and continuing to yell, Wink said, according to the report.
At the time, Barrentine faced a recall election to decide whether she would keep her seat on city council. The Sept. 18 election fell in Barrentine's favor by a margin of 48 votes, or 3 percentage points, according to official results.
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