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Former Boulder Detective in JonBenet Ramsey Case Sues Police

Aired June 5, 2001 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: She was the first detective on the scene the day JonBenet Ramsey's body was found. Countless media reports focused on her work inside the Ramsey home on December 26th, 1996. Now former Boulder detective Linda Arndt is taking the city's current and former police chiefs right to court.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren.

COSSACK: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

It's been 4 1/2 years since the body of JonBenet Ramsey was found in her family's home in Boulder, Colorado. No criminal trial has taken place in this case, as no one has ever been charged with the killing. But now a civil court in Denver is finally the site of a Ramsey case, a lawsuit brought by the first detective on the crime scene.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Former Boulder detective Linda Arndt is suing the city, former police chief Tom Koby and current chief Mark Beckner. In her lawsuit, Arndt says her First Amendment rights were violated because her superiors prevented her from publicly defending herself from media reports about the case. Much of the press surrounding the JonBenet Ramsey case has focused on how Arndt handled the crime scene.

COSSACK: Joining us from Atlanta is the civil attorney for John and Patsy Ramsey, Lin Wood. From Denver, we're joined by a KOA radio reporter, April Zesbaugh.

VAN SUSTEREN: Also in Denver, criminal defense attorney Larry Pozner, and here in Washington, Jesse O'Care (ph), employment law professor Mike -- employment law attorney Michael Kane, and Alex McIntosh (ph). In our back row, Bailey Newcomb (ph) and Suzanna Rogers (ph).

Let me go first to you, Lin. Lin, your clients are not parties in this case, but do you expect that they might be witnesses?

LIN WOOD, RAMSEY FAMILY ATTORNEY: They will not be witnesses. They were listed initially as potential witnesses, subject to subpoena, but certainly, they cannot be subpoenaed to appear in a Colorado court. They reside in Atlanta. What we are, are very interested observers, watching the evidence accumulate and confirming our long-standing knowledge that this is a failed and flawed investigation, and Linda Arndt is one of the best examples of what is wrong with the Boulder Police Department's investigation of the JonBenet Ramsey case.

COSSACK: Lin, you say that Linda Arndt is an example of what was wrong, but you know, Linda Arndt says that she was unfairly singled out. I mean, that's what this whole lawsuit is all about. So why -- why focus in on her?

WOOD: Well, Linda Arndt was, for the first five months of this investigation, the co-lead detective, along with Detective Tom Trujillo. Linda Arndt has no homicide investigation experience, and that's one of the major problems with this police investigation. It's been handled by inexperienced, biased investigators, who, I believe, are clearly incapable of solving the crime.

Remember also that Linda Arndt went on national television in September of 1999 and accused John Ramsey of the murder of his daughter. And in this case, in her sworn deposition testimony, she has finally had to admit that she had no evidence, no evidence, to support that false accusation. So she's one example of the accusers of this family, one example of the bias that exists in this department, one example of the inexperience and incompetence that exist in this police department.

VAN SUSTEREN: April, tell us, what -- what is the complaint that former detective Arndt actually has.

APRIL ZESBAUGH, KOA RADIO REPORTER: The complaint is that Tom Koby, the former police chief of Boulder, didn't come to her defense when the media was criticizing her for being one of the first detectives on the scene and not securing it very well, and that Tom Koby didn't allow her to defend herself. She believes that's her 1st Amendment right, to be able to come out in the media and defend herself and say those kinds of things.

But I think it's interesting that Lin Wood is saying all this when Linda Arndt was really the first detective to show the Ramseys compassion. She allowed John Ramsey -- or, you know, didn't chew him out when he brought his -- his dead daughter's body up on the stairs and laid her in a high-traffic area, in a hallway. She didn't...

VAN SUSTEREN: But wait a second, April...

ZESBAUGH: ... get mad at Patsy Ramsey...

VAN SUSTEREN: But that may very well be, but I remember that September, '99, interview with Linda Arndt, in which she said something that seemed rather bizarre to me at the time, something about she "looked into his eyes" at the moment and that she could tell guilt. And I'm obviously paraphrasing it. But this has not been a woman who has been, quote, "friendly" to the Ramseys.

ZESBAUGH: She was certainly initially, by not getting mad at Patsy Ramsey for laying over her daughter. In court yesterday, a man came to her defense, somebody that she...

VAN SUSTEREN: But "get mad at" -- wait.

ZESBAUGH: ... had retained...

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm going to stop you right there, April.

ZESBAUGH: Yeah?

VAN SUSTEREN: "Not get mad at Patsy" -- it was her obligation, Detective Arndt's, as the detective on the scene, to make sure the scene wasn't contaminated. So it isn't a question of being mad, it really is a question of how she handled that crime scene. She should have...

ZESBAUGH: Absolutely.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... kept the mother away from the body.

ZESBAUGH: Absolutely. But she showed, quote, unquote, "great human emotion," which was what was argued yesterday in the courtroom by somebody that she retained, this J.P. Van Blaricom from Bellevue, Washington, whom she used to work with in the Boulder Police Department, who said it was not her job to secure that scene. When she got on scene, this was a kidnapping. She worked for the sex crimes unit. She went in there thinking it was one story, and it slowly turned into...

VAN SUSTEREN: Which I got to...

ZESBAUGH: ... another, a murder.

VAN SUSTEREN: I got to tell you, though -- and I understand that was the testimony, but I always thought it was sort of preposterous. You go into a home with a missing child, and even though they say it's a kidnapping, not to suspect that, indeed, it's a murder. So you know, I always thought that was rather preposterous of her to say that she thought it was a kidnapping alone.

ZESBAUGH: She also told John Ramsey and Fleet, his friend, to go around and check the house, and "If you find anything, don't touch it." They were the ones who brought up the body, as you know. So she did try -- in her defense, she did try to secure the scene. But people in court yesterday defending her, saying it wasn't even her responsibility to do that. It was the seven officers who were on the scene before her, and their responsibility to do it.

COSSACK: Larry Pozner, I thought that when you went to work for the police department, there were certain constitutional rights that you somehow give up. It seemed to me that, you know, when I was a lawyer, I used to see police officers being told all the time that they couldn't invoke their rights under the 5th Amendment because that's just the price they pay in being a police officer. If you don't like it, go have some other job. When the chief of police says, you know, "There's a gag order, and you can't talk," isn't that kind of sort of the way it is? LARRY POZNER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: That is the way it is. The Boulder police kept begging, "Please don't publicize the facts. Please don't tell the suspects what we know." It's routine that police aren't supposed to talk about a case under investigation, and now she's saying she should have had a right in the midst of the investigation to go public with facts?

You know, you take your licks in this job. And her defense, Roger...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, but let me -- let me just...

POZNER: ... is kind of cute. Her defense is -- is, "Sure, I screwed up, but a lot of other cops screwed up, too"? That doesn't make for a good verdict.

VAN SUSTEREN: Which raises the point, Larry, is that if she could have spoken at the time, if there weren't this gag order, if she didn't think that her 1st Amendment rights were somehow infringed by it, what was she to say, "I was the highest-ranking officer on the scene. I screwed it up"? I mean, that was -- I mean, like, what could she have possibly have conceivably said?

POZNER: This is Keystone Kops, Greta. It would have been kind of fun to hear it, and it's fun to hear it now, is what she's saying is, "Yeah, I know the scene is contaminated, but let me tell you which officer contaminated it. Yes, I know the search was done badly. Let me tell you which one of my fellow cops blew it." They're just pointing fingers at each other, but we're finally getting a glimpse into the disastrous handling of this case by the Boulder police.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me ask you a quick question. In terms of -- was she the -- was she, indeed, the highest-ranking officer on the scene? And is it your understanding that the highest-ranking officer has responsibility for everything down underneath her, in the sense that the investigation...

POZNER: Absolutely. And you know, you can have patrolmen at the scene of murder cases, and they still know that their job isn't to write traffic tickets, it's to guard a crime scene. It's preposterous for her to say that it wasn't her job. It's every officer's job to guard the crime scene, and she was the only one there for much of this time.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, we're going to take a quick break. Linda Arndt claims the media libeled her, but she was unable to defend herself. What do you do when your employer puts the kibosh on your words?

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

On this day in 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was fatally shot in a Los Angeles hotel by Sirhan Sirhan. Sirhan's death sentence was commuted in 1972 after the California supreme court abolished the death penalty. He has repeatedly been denied parole.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Linda Arndt was the first detective to arrive on the scene the day JonBenet Ramsey was found dead in her parents' basement. Some media reports claimed that Arndt bungled the investigation. The former detective now says she was unable to defend herself and is taking her complaints into a federal courtroom.

Michael Kane, how does she present her case? What does she have to establish?

MICHAEL KANE, EMPLOYMENT LAW EXPERT: Well, first of all, as a police officer, she hasn't given up her 1st Amendment rights. She has a right to speak out on matters of public concern. And I think what she...

VAN SUSTEREN: About an ongoing investigation? I mean, I got to tell you, is that any -- you know, this is not an ordinary job, and a police officer who speaks out may severely jeopardize an investigation. So does she really have a right to speak out?

KANE: She has a right to speak out on matters of public concern. And what she should be arguing here and she should be showing to this jury is that there was misinformation in the press. The public was being fed misinformation and...

VAN SUSTEREN: So what? I mean...

KANE: If the police department knew that it was wrong, that the -- that the public was being fed misinformation, she has a right to correct that information.

VAN SUSTEREN: Really? Even if the police department comes in and says, "If we sit here and feed information to the press, we're going to jeopardize this entire investigation?"

KANE: It's not...

VAN SUSTEREN: They have to -- the police department has to correct the misinformation?

KANE: The right's not unqualified, and a police department can certainly come in and say, "Linda, you can't say that because of this reason." But it's not enough for them to just say, "Well, it's going to compromise the investigation." There has to be something more than that. What is...

VAN SUSTEREN: That isn't enough in a homicide case?

KANE: What is saying, "The report you had on TV last night was wrong. It had the wrong facts. Our investigators are qualified. They're doing their job, and the public should have confidence in those investigators." What's wrong with saying that? Would that have compromised the investigation? It probably wouldn't have. And I don't think it's enough for the police department to just say... VAN SUSTEREN: I got to tell you, if the police department in this case, with the level of publicity covering this, had to correct every piece of misinformation, they'd have to hire an entire 'nother police department just to handle the inquiries because it was flooded with media.

KANE: This was a highly unusual case, and I don't think Linda Arndt is going to be arguing that they should have responded to every piece of misinformation.

VAN SUSTEREN: Just the ones against her.

KANE: Well, I don't think she's arguing that, either, because the 1st Amendment talks about matters of public concern, not about employees' own self-interest. She wants to be talking about misinformation regarding the investigation. That also affects her, but it's more global than that.

COSSACK: You know what I don't get, is I don't get her lawsuit at all, in the sense that she's claiming that she was libeled, but it wasn't the police chief who libeled her. She claims the media libeled her. And she claims that the police chief has some kind of an obligation to protect this libel. So it's not like she's saying the police chief libeled her. So what is this lawsuit all about?

KANE: Well, it's like libel by proxy, and I think the...

COSSACK: There is a...

KANE: ... judge out there...

COSSACK: There's an interesting topic -- theory.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is that a -- is that a viable -- I mean, has anyone ever won on that?

KANE: I've never tried it, and I've never heard of it. Unless you can show that the person has responsibility, has some sort of supervisory authority over the person making the libelous statements, which...

VAN SUSTEREN: All right...

COSSACK: Which obviously...

(CROSSTALK)

COSSACK: ... the chief of police has no responsibility to...

KANE: Correct.

COSSACK: ... and no ability to control the media.

VAN SUSTEREN: Larry, you...

COSSACK: So how does that proxy happen? KANE: Well, I don't think it's going to happen in this case. I think the judge tossed out the "false light" claim that she had, that she was being portrayed in a false light and that somehow...

VAN SUSTEREN: But even...

KANE: ... the police chief is responsible.

VAN SUSTEREN: But even "false light" goes directly -- you don't have these proxies in between. If a newspaper holds you in a false light, you sue the newspaper.

Let's go to Larry. Larry, you're shaking your head, so I assume you must have something to add.

POZNER: Roger was right on at the very beginning. She can't talk when the talking is inconsistent with the job she holds. Her job was to investigate and keep secret the facts. She didn't have the right to a public forum on whether Linda Arndt was a good detective. She had to bite her tongue. And this notion that if somebody outside the firm libels me and I have to keep my mouth shut, I can sue the inside the company, that would be disastrous. What would happen -- if somebody put an article in that says Microsoft's word processors are dummies, they could say, "Well, no, let me tell you what I'm developing for them"? You -- you can't have this rule that she wants, which is a cop is excuse from their duties when it's inconvenient to them personally.

COSSACK: Can she even sustain a lawsuit unless she can show some kind of a connection between the police chief and those people that allegedly libeled her? I mean, I -- first of all, it's not so clear that she got libeled. But let's assume for the purposes of the argument that there may be a claim of action. How can she -- how can she turn back to the police chief for saying, in effect, "You should have protected me"?

POZNER: I don't see how she possibly can complain. She knew the rules when she took the job, which is you keep secret the stuff. The police chief, looking at her and saying, "You know, Linda, you're having a tough day, but all of us are having a tough day in Boulder. We're all being called names. Just stick it out. We're here to solve a case." I don't see that she gets to sue anybody.

COSSACK: Lin, besides doing criminal defense work, you've done your fair share of libel, 1st Amendment work. What do you make of this?

WOOD: Well, I think one point that's been omitted -- and I'm certainly not here to defend Linda Arndt. I have no sympathy for her whatsoever. But I would point out that part of her complaint is based on the fact that the misinformation and the false information, a lot of it was coming not just from the media, but from leaks from the Boulder Police Department. Those...

VAN SUSTEREN: Can she prove that? I mean...

WOOD: Well, she could not prove that, and...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, that's a fatal flaw!

WOOD: ... and I think that part of her case was thrown out. But I think she feels like there was a greater duty on the police department to correct false statements about her or to allow her to correct them when they, in fact, were emanating from the police department. Look...

COSSACK: Well...

VAN SUSTEREN: But if they...

WOOD: ... for four-and-a-half years, this department has leaked like a sieve, most of it prejudicial to John and Patsy Ramsey...

VAN SUSTEREN: But if she -- but...

WOOD: ... almost all of it false.

VAN SUSTEREN: But Lin -- Lin, you still got to prove it. I don't -- she can sit there and say that, and you can say that, there were all these leaks, but the fact is, you've got to prove it. It's not enough to say it. Can she actually prove that the police department leaked false information about her?

WOOD: Based on the deposition testimony she gave, I didn't see the evidence in her testimony. But I can't speak...

VAN SUSTEREN: That's fatal.

WOOD: ... to the level of -- that is fatal, and it was in this case. The judge threw that part of her case out. But what I do know is that there will come a day when the proof will be shown. There are going to be a number of civil lawsuits that involve the question of the handling of this investigation by the Boulder Police Department.

The Boulder Police Department lawyer, Theodore Halaby, described this case as one that will air the dirty laundry of this investigation. Let me tell you, this case is only going to air the tip of the iceberg of the dirty laundry. By the time we're through taking testimony and discovery in the other civil lawsuits for John and Patsy Ramsey, the public's going to know that there is a mountain of dirty laundry. This was a failed, flawed investigation, and it's time to put it into the hands of a new set of experienced homicide investigators, if we're ever going to find out who murdered this child.

COSSACK: All right, don't go away. We're going to take a break.

Will John and Patsy Ramsey be called to the witness stand in this case or any other case? Stay with us.

(BEGIN Q&A)

What is Robert J. Ritchie, better known as musician "Kid Rock," seeking from his ex-girlfriend in a Michigan court?

Answer coming up.

(END Q&A)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN Q&A)

What is Robert J. Ritchie, better known as musician "Kid Rock," seeking from his ex-girlfriend in a Michigan court?

The $25 a week in child support she owes him. Ritchie claims Kelly Russell has only paid two weeks worth of child support since last October.

(END Q&A)

COSSACK: Four years after the body of JonBenet Ramsey was found in the basement of her parents' home, no one has yet been charged with her death. But over all the years, several civil lawsuits have emerged from this unsolved mystery. Could these cases further the criminal investigation, which is still alive?

Lin, I -- have they tried at any time during any of these lawsuits to try and, you know, subpoena your clients and start asking them questions that they never would have had to answer in a traditional criminal investigation? And if they have, what have you done about it?

WOOD: Well, John and Patsy, you know, have filed a lawsuit on their own behalf against former detective Steve Thomas. He was the Boulder police detective that accused Patsy of the murder. And ultimately, they will be deposed in that case. They've also had lawsuits filed against them, and literally had their depositions noticed for next week. But those depositions were postponed.

We're not going to fight any reasonable and legal opportunities that litigants have to depose John and Patsy Ramsey. They don't have anything to hide. You remember, these are people that have voluntarily subjected themselves to some 70 hours of intense police interrogation.

Four-and-a-half years, millions of dollars, 13 months, a grand jury that refused to indict -- our position now is simple, Roger. We want either a new investigation in the hands of competent, experienced, fair homicide investigators, or if the Boulder authorities are not willing to make that investment in justice, then at least publicly acknowledge the truth, that the investigation of John and Patsy Ramsey has been exhausted, and there remains insufficient evidence to justify bringing any criminal charge against them.

Our system of justice should not allow people to live under this, quote, unquote, "umbrella of suspicion" for the rest of their lives, where there's not sufficient evidence to even bring a charge against them.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, speaking of the rest of their lives, April, what is detective -- former detective Arndt now doing, and what are some of the other sort of people we remember from this -- the early days of this investigation doing, now that they've left the police force or the DA?

ZESBAUGH: Well, she's probably pretty busy this time of year because spring and the growing season -- she, as I understand it, is an $8-an-hour tree trimmer, so she has no marketability now. That's gone because of the defamation from the Boulder Police Department. So she can't get a job in her chosen field, even though this is a woman who won, what, Police Detective of the Year several years ago for the Boulder Police Department.

COSSACK: Twice. Twice.

VAN SUSTEREN: Yeah, twice. What about...

ZESBAUGH: Twice.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about Alex Hunter, April? Do you know what he's -- he's now retired as the Boulder County DA. Any idea what he's doing?

ZESBAUGH: And Mary Keenan has taken his place, winning last November. I don't know what he's up to, probably in some sort of consulting capacity, as we've seen with some of these other folks. Tom Koby, as you know, the former police chief of Boulder, now I understand doing a lot of fishing. He's pretty much retired after being a consultant for about a year and a half for the Boulder Police Department since leaving. He's living in a small town in Lyons, Colorado.

There's so much road kill in this -- in the highway of the Ramsey case that it's nasty. All the detectives that were fired or resigned or let go -- many of them, though, as you know, have book deals. Certainly, Steve Thomas has made this very lucrative for him, as the Ramseys have, as some of the other people in this investigation have. Maybe Linda Arndt should have gone that direction if she was seeking money.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know what's so strange about this, you know, we've all sort of come down hard that Linda Arndt doesn't have a chance to win this case, and now watch -- except for Michael has been a little more sympathetic towards her viewpoint. Now watch. She'll win this case big, and we'll all look very stupid.

COSSACK: You know what's the most amazing thing of all?

VAN SUSTEREN: What?

COSSACK: In our last few seconds?

VAN SUSTEREN: What? COSSACK: I can't believe you can get a tree trimmer for $8 an hour. I -- I'll tell you something. I've had tree trimmers, and they cost a lot more than that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Michael, you think she has any chance of winning?

KANE: I think she has a very good chance of winning. A judge has allowed this case to go to trial.

VAN SUSTEREN: And...

KANE: And that means there's a case here.

VAN SUSTEREN: And it's survived motions to dismiss, undoubtedly...

KANE: I'm sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... so it's gotten some -- some traction.

KANE: That's right.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, anyway, that's all the time we have. Maybe Michael's right. We'll see.

That's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests, and thank you for watching.

Tonight on The Point: The changing of the guard in the U.S. Senate. We'll get to the point at 8:30 PM Eastern time.

COSSACK: And today on Talkback Live: Are guns just too tempting for boys/ Send your email to Bobbie Battista, and tune it at 3:00 PM Eastern time.

And in tomorrow's legal news docket: A federal judge considers the fate of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Join us then for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF.

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