Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon accused fellow Commissioner Lora Thomas of leaking classified materials regarding the board’s 2-1 vote to spend nearly $1 million for advanced metal detector technology at STEM School Highlands Ranch.
Thomas voted against the measure, saying the technology is not proven and she had concerns. Laydon and Commissioner George Teal voted to spend $961,000 for Evolv to install AI-enhanced metal detectors at STEM School Highlands Ranch, where a deadly shooting occurred in May 2019.
Thomas posted links to stories written by Colorado Community Media’s McKenna Harford and Hailey Lena in her weekly newsletter, which prompted Laydon to call South Metro Editor Thelma Grimes around 9 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 29, claiming the articles are irresponsible, put students at risk and quoted “classified” materials.
Grimes disputed Laydon’s claims that reporters received any such documents or materials from Thomas or other commissioners. The reporters wrote stories based on the Jan. 24 public meeting where the vote was taken to spend the funds and through interviews and research.
Laydon still moved forward with accusations, accusing Thomas in a Jan. 31 letter of leaking “classified” materials. Laydon took particular issue with the story written by Harford, who wrote specifically about the technology being funded by the commissioners. The well-sourced story quotes Evolv’s website, STEM School officials, and other information available publicly through online searches, YouTube and documentation from the Jan. 24 meeting.
In the letter to Thomas, Laydon said he believes the public should only be given information about mental health and school resource officers within the Douglas County School District. Even in cases where the county or school district approves spending millions of dollars during public meetings, Laydon said any school security information should not be available to the public.
“The county has actively shared school security funding around mental health and school resource officers as public awareness of those measures does not potentially place children at risk, but as you are aware and have repeated in our recorded work sessions, in an agreement with the Board of Education since the STEM shooting, the county has never publicly disclosed specific school security details so that we don’t put students, staff, or administration at risk,” Laydon said in the letter.
Laydon also took issue with Colorado Community Media reporting about the FLOCK technology approved by the school district last year. While Harford wrote about the technology, no information on where the technology is located was provided. The technology has proven useful for tracking down stolen cars.
In the letter, and in texts to Grimes, Laydon said he called Mike Peterson, president of the Douglas County School Board, about Harford’s attendance at school security meetings where Laydon said attendees sign non-disclosure agreements. Laydon said the meetings he references are not open to the public.
Grimes said Harford attends public meetings hosted by the school district, while noting the press was unaware of elected officials holding security meetings where NDAs are being signed and that are not open to the public.
After quoting from the Douglas County Policy Manual section 2.3, Laydon ends the letter asking Thomas to answer whether she or her staff provided classified materials to Colorado Community Media reporters.
“This is the second time in a matter of months that a privileged document protected in an executive session was leaked to the press,” Laydon wrote. “In the last instance in which county counsel indicated your behavior could be criminally charged, you have yet to affirmatively state that you did not leak that report. Such lack of candor gives me significant pause with regard to your trustworthiness and seeming willingness to repeatedly place the public interest over your own. Regrettably, this is yet another example wherein your self-motivated behavior and significant lack of judgment are undermining the good work of this county and board must reserve its right to take further action pursuant to the Douglas County Policy Manual.”
In 2022, with Commissioner George Teal voting in agreement with Laydon, Thomas was investigated twice regarding the alleged release of documents and other accusations.
The first investigation cost the county $17,000 and Thomas was found to have distributed a letter, but did not create a hostile work environment.
In the second investigation, the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office cleared Thomas of any wrongdoing.
In the most recent accusations, Laydon did not tell Grimes by phone what exactly he was referring to as “classified” in Harford’s story. He does not provide a specific example in his letter to Thomas either.
As of Feb. 2, Thomas had not responded to Laydon.