of Det. Steve Thomas
August 6, 1998
On June 22, I submitted a letter to Chief Koby, requesting a leave of
absence from the Boulder Police Department. In response to persistent
speculation as to why I chose to leave the Ramsey investigation, this
letter explains more fully those reasons. Although my concerns were
well known for some time, I tried to be gracious in my departure,
addressing only health concerns. However, after a month of soul
searching and reflection, I feel I must now set the record straight.
The primary reason I chose to leave is my belief that the district
attorney's office continues to mishandle the Ramsey case. I had been
troubled for many months with many aspects of the investigation. Albeit
an uphill battle of a case to begin with, it became a nearly impossible
investigation because of the political alliances, philosophical
differences, and professional egos that blocked progress in more ways,
and on more occasions, than I can detail in this memorandum. I and
others voiced these concerns repeatedly. In the interest of hoping
justice would be served, we tolerated it, except for those closed door
sessions when detectives protested in frustration, where fists hit the
table, where detectives demanded that the right things be done. The
wrong things were done, and made it a manner of simple principle that I
could not continue to participate as it stood with the district
attorney's office. As an organization, we remained silent, when we
should have shouted.
The Boulder Police Department took a handful of detectives days after
the murder, and handed us this case. As one of those five primary
detectives, we tackled it for a year and a half. We conducted an
exhaustive investigation, followed the evidence where it led us, and
were faithfully and professionally committed to this case. Although not
perfect, cases rarely are. During eighteen months on the Ramsey
investigation, my colleagues and I worked the case night and day, and
in spite of tied hands. On June 1-2, 1998, we crunched thirty thousand
pages of investigation to its essence, and put our cards on the table,
delivering the case in a formal presentation to the district attorney's
office. We stood confident in our work. Very shortly thereafter,
though, the detectives who know this case better than anyone were
advised by the district attorney's office that we would not be
participating as grand jury advisory witnesses.
The very entity with whom we shared our investigative case file to see
justice sought, I felt, was betraying this case. We were never afforded
true prosecutorial support. There was never a consolidation of
resources. All legal opportunities were not made available. How were we
expected to "solve" this case when the district attorney's office was
crippling us with their positions? I believe they were, literally,
facilitating the escape of justice. During this investigation, consider
•During the investigation detectives would discover, collect, and bring
evidence to the district attorney's office, only to have it summarily
dismissed or rationalized as insignificant. The most elementary of
investigative efforts, such as obtaining telephone and credit card
records, were met without support, search warrants denied. The
significant opinions of national experts were casually dismissed or
ignored by the district attorney's office, even the experienced FBI
were waved aside.
•Those who chose not to cooperate were never
compelled before a grand jury early in this case, as detectives
suggested only weeks after the murder, while information and memories
•An informant, for reasons his own, came to
detectives about conduct occurring inside the district attorneys
office, including allegations of a plan intended only to destroy a
man's career. We carefully listened. With that knowledge, the
department did nothing. Other than to alert the accused, and in the
process burn the two detectives [who captured that exchange on an
undercover wire, incidentally] who came forth with this information.
One of the results of that internal whistleblowing was witnessing
Detective Commander Eller, who also could not tolerate what was
occurring, lose his career and reputation undeservedly; scapegoated in
a manner which only heightened my concerns. It did not take much
inferential reasoning to realize that any dissidents were readily
•In a departure from protocol, police reports,
physical evidence, and investigative information was shared with Ramsey
defense attorneys, all of this in the district attorney's office
"spirit of cooperation". I served a search warrant, only to find later
defense attorneys were simply given copies of the evidence it yielded.
•An FBI agent, whom I didn't even know, quietly
tipped me off about what the DA's office was doing behind our backs,
conducting investigation the police department was wholly unaware of.
•I was advised not to speak to certain witnesses,
and all but dissuaded from pursuing particular investigative efforts.
Polygraphs were acceptable for some subjects, but others seemed immune
from such requests.
•Innocent people were not "cleared", publicly or
otherwise, even when it was unmistakably the right thing to do, as
reputations and lives were destroyed. Some in the district attorney's
office, to this day, pursue weak, defenseless, and innocent people in
shameless tactics that one couldn't believe more bizarre if it were
•I was told by one in the district attorney's office
about being unable to "break" a particular police officer from his
resolute accounts of events he had witnessed. In my opinion, this was
not trial preparation, this was an attempt to derail months of hard
•I was repeatedly reminded by some in the district
attorney's office just how powerful and talented and resourceful
particular defense attorneys were. How could decisions be made this way?
•There is evidence that was critical to the
investigation, that to this day has never been collected, because
neither search warrants nor other means were supported to do so. Not to
mention evidence which still sits today, untested in the laboratory, as
differences continue about how to proceed.
•While investigative efforts were
rebuffed, my search warrant affidavits and attempts to gather evidence
in the murder investigation of a six year old child were met with
refusals and, instead, the suggestion that we "ask the permission of
the Ramseys" before proceeding. And just before conducting the Ramsey
interviews, I thought it inconceivable I was being lectured on
These are but a few of the many examples of why I chose to leave.
Having to convince, to plead at times, to a district attorney's office
to assist us in the murder of a little girl, by way of the most basic
of investigative requests, was simply absurd. When my detective partner
and I had to literally hand search tens of thousands of receipts,
because we didn't have a search warrant to assist us otherwise, we did
so. But we lost tremendous opportunities to make progress, to seek
justice, and to know the truth. Auspicious timing and strategy could
have made a difference. When the might of the criminal justice system
should have brought all it had to bear on this investigation, and
didn't, we remained silent. We were trying to deliver a murder case
with hands tied behind our backs. It was difficult, and our
frustrations understandable. It was an assignment without chance of
success. Politics seemed to trump justice.
Even "outsiders" quickly assessed the situation, as the FBI politely
noted early on: "the government isn't in charge of this investigation."
As the nation watched, appropriately anticipating a fitting response to
the murder of the most innocent of victims, I stood bothered as to what
occurred behind the scenes. Those inside this case knew what was going
on. Eighteen months gave us a unique perspective.
We learned to ignore the campaign of misinformation in which we were
said to be bumbling along, or else just pursuing one or two suspects in
some ruthless vendetta. Much of what appeared in the press was
orchestrated by particular sources wishing to discredit the Boulder
Police Department. We watched the media spun, while we were prohibited
from exercising First Amendment rights. As disappointment and
frustration pervaded, detectives would remark to one another, "if it
reaches a particular point, I'm walking away." But we would always
tolerate it "just one more time." Last year, when we discovered hidden
cameras inside the Ramsey house, only to realize the detectives had
been unwittingly videotaped, this should have rocked the police
department off its foundation. Instead, we allowed that, too, to pass
without challenge. The detectives' enthusiasm became simply resigned
frustration, acquiescing to that which should never have been
tolerated. In the media blitz, the pressure of the whole world
watching, important decisions seemed to be premised on "how it would
play" publicly. Among at least a few of the detectives, "there's
something wrong here" became a catch phrase. I witnessed others having
to make decisions which impacted their lives and careers, watched the
soul searching that occurred as the ultimate questions were pondered.
As it goes, "evils that befall the world are not nearly so often caused
by bad men, as they are by good men who are silent when an opinion must
be voiced." Although several good men in the police department shouted
loudly behind closed doors, the organization stood deafeningly silent
at what continued to occur unchallenged.
Last Spring, you, too, seemed at a loss. I was taken aback when I was
reminded of what happened to Commander Eller when he stuck his neck
out. When reminded how politically powerful the DA was. When reminded
of the hundreds of other cases the department had to file with this
district attorney's office, and that this was but one case. And
finally, when I was asked, "what do you want done? The system burned
down?", it struck me dumb. But when you conceded that there were those
inside the DA's office we had to simply accept as "defense witnesses",
and when we were reduced to simply recording our objections for
"documentation purposes" -- I knew I was not going to participate in
this much longer.
I believe the district attorney's office is thoroughly compromised.
When we were told by one in the district attorney's office, months
before we had even completed our investigation, that this case "is not
prosecutable," we shook our heads in disbelief. A lot could have been
forgiven, the lesser transgressions ignored, for the right things done.
Instead, those in the district attorney's office encouraged us to allow
them to "work their magic" (which I never fully understood. Did that
"magic" include sharing our case file information with the defense
attorneys, dragging feet in evidence collection, or believing that two
decades of used-car-dealing-style-plea-bargaining was somehow going to
solve this case?). Right and wrong is just that. Some of these issues
were not shades of gray. Decision should have been made as such.
Whether a suspect a penniless indigent with a public defender, or
As contrasted by my experiences in Georgia, for example, where my
warrant affidavits were met with a sense of support and an obligation
to the victim. Having worked with able prosecutors in other
jurisdictions, having worked cases where justice was aggressively
sought, I have familiarity with these prosecution professionals who
hold a strong sense of justice. And then, from Georgia, the Great
Lakes, the East Coast, the South, I would return to Boulder, to again
be thoroughly demoralized.
We delayed and ignored, for far too long, that which was "right", in
deference of maintaining this dysfunctional relationship with the
district attorney's office. This wasn't a runaway train that couldn't
be stopped. Some of us bit our tongues as the public was told of this
"renewed cooperation" between the police department and the district
attorney's office -- this at the very time the detectives and those in
the district attorney's office weren't even on speaking terms, the same
time you had to act as a liaison between the two agencies because the
detectives couldn't tolerate it. I was quite frankly surprised, as you
remarked on this camaraderie, that there had not yet been a fistfight.
In Boulder, where the politics, policies, and pervasive thought has
held for years, a criminal justice system designed to deal with such an
event was not in place. Instead, we had an institution that when needed
most, buckled. The system was paralyzed, as to this day one continues
to get away with murder.
Will there be a real attempt at justice? I may be among the last to
find out. The department assigned me some of the most sensitive and
critical assignments in the Ramsey case, including search warrants and
affidavits, the Atlanta projects, the interviews of the Ramseys, and
many other sensitive assignments I won't mention. I criss-crossed the
country, conducting interviews and investigation, pursuing pedophiles
and drifters, chasing and discarding leads. I submitted over 250
investigative reports for this case alone. I'd have been happy to
assist the grand jury. But the detectives, who know this case better
than anyone, were told we would not be allowed as grand jury advisory
witnesses, as is common place. If a grand jury is convened, the records
will be sealed, and we will not witness what goes on inside such a
proceeding. What part of the case gets presented, what doesn't?
District Attorney Hunter's continued reference to a "runaway" grand
jury is also puzzling. Is he afraid that he cannot control the outcome?
Why would one not simply present evidence to jurors, and let the jury
decide? Perhaps the DA is hoping for a voluntary confession one day.
What's needed, though, is an effective district attorney to conduct the
inquiry, not a remorseful killer.
The district attorney's office should be the ethical and judicial
compass for the community, ensuring that justice is served -- or at
least, sought. Instead, our DA has becoming a spinning compass for the
media. The perpetuating inference continues that justice is somehow
just around the corner. I do not see that occurring, as the two year
anniversary of this murder approaches.
It is my belief the district attorney's office has effectively crippled
this case. The time for intervention is now. It is difficult to imagine
a more compelling situation for the appointment of an entirely
independent prosecution team to be introduced into this matter, who
would oversee an attempt at righting this case.
* * * * *
Unmistakably and worst of all, we have failed a little girl named Jon
Benet. Six years old. Many good people, decent, innocent citizens, are
forever bound by the murder of this child. There is a tremendous
obligation to them. But an infinitely greater obligation to her, as she
rests in a small cemetery far away from this anomaly of a place called
A distant second stands the second tragedy -- the failure of the system
in Boulder. Ask the mistreated prosecution witnesses in this
investigation, who cooperated for months, who now refuse to talk until
a special prosecutor is established. Ask former detectives who have
quietly tendered their shields in disheartenment. Ask all those
innocent people personally affected by this case, who have had their
lives upset because of the arbitrary label of "suspect" being attached.
Ask the cops who cannot speak out because they still wear a badge. The
list is long.
I know that to speak out brings its own issues. But as you also know,
there are others who are as disheartened as I am, who are biting their
tongues, searching their consciences. I know what may occur -- I may be
portrayed as frustrated, disgruntled. Not so. I have had an exemplary
and decorated thirteen year career as a police officer and detective. I
didn't want to challenge the system. In no way do I wish to harm this
case or subvert the long and arduous work that has been done. I only
wish to speak up and ask for assistance in making a change. I want
justice for a child who was killed in her home on Christmas night.
This case has defined many aspects of all our lives, and will continue
to do so for all of our days. My colleagues put their hearts and souls
into this case, and I will take some satisfaction that it was the
detective team who showed tremendous efforts and loyalties to seeking
justice for this victim. Many sacrifices were made. Families.
Marriages. In the latter months of the investigation, I was diagnosed
with a disease which will require a lifetime of medication. Although my
health declined, I was resolved to see the case through to a
satisfactory closure. I did that on June 1-2. And on June 22, I
requested a leave of absence, without mention of what transpired in our
department since Christmas 1996.
What I witnessed for two years of my life was so fundamentally flawed,
it reduced me to tears. Everything the badge ever meant to me was so
foundationally shaken, one should never have to sell one's soul as a
prerequisite to wear it. On June 26, after leaving the investigation
for the last time, and leaving the city of Boulder, I wept as I drove
home, removing my detectives shield and placing it on the seat beside
me, later putting it in a desk drawer at home, knowing I could never
put it back on.
There is some consolation that a greater justice awaits the person who
committed these acts, independent of this system we call "justice." A
greater justice awaits. Of that, at least, we can be confident.
As a now infamous author, panicked in the night, once penned, "use that
good southern common sense of yours." I will do just that. Originally
from a small southern town where this would never have been tolerated,
where respect for law and order and traditions were instilled in me, I
will take that murderous author's out-of-context advice. And use my
good southern common sense to put this case into the perspective it
necessitates -- a precious child was murdered. There needs to be some
consequence to that.
Regretfully, I tender this letter, and my police career, a calling
which I loved. I do this because I cannot continue to sanction by my
silence what has occurred in this case. It was never a fair playing
field, the "game" was simply unacceptable anymore. And that's what
makes this all so painful. The detectives never had a chance. If ever
there were a case, and if ever there were a victim, who truly meant
something to the detectives pursuing the truth, this is it. If not this
case, what case? Until such time an independent prosecutor is appointed
to oversee this case, I will not be a part of this. What went on was
I recalled a favorite passage recently, Atticus Finch speaking to his
daughter: "Just remember that one thing does not abide by majority
rule, Scout -- it's your conscience."
At thirty-six years old, I thought my life's passion as a police
officer was carved in stone. I realize that although I may have to
trade my badge for a carpenter's hammer, I will do so with a clear
conscience. It is with a heavy heart that I offer my resignation from
the Boulder Police Department, in protest of this continuing travesty.
Detective Steve Thomas #638
Boulder Police Department
August 6, 1998