DENVER — A war of words that has simmered for more than four years broke wide open Thursday as former Boulder Detective Linda Arndt’s lawsuit against the Boulder Police Department got under way in U.S. District Court.
Opening arguments, in which the parties blamed one another for the failure of the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation, came late Wednesday after nearly two days of jury selection.
Arndt’s suit claims the Boulder Police Department violated her free-speech rights by not allowing her to defend herself against allegations that she bungled the Ramsey investigation in its first hours.
“Linda Arndt was scapegoated by the Boulder Police Department,” attorney Judith Biggs told the six-woman, two-man jury in her opening remarks. “Now she trims trees for eight bucks an hour and will never be a cop again.”
Boulder police Chief Mark Beckner and former Chief Tom Koby sat at the defendant’s table as Biggs accused them of failing to defend Arndt when they knew others had made mistakes she was being blamed for.
Defense attorney Frank Halaby disagreed, telling the jury that if Koby had defended Arndt, he would have been “misrepresenting her conduct.” He said Koby refused to allow Arndt to “misrepresent her conduct to the public.”
Biggs, however, claimed Arndt did not make mistakes in the investigation and did the best she could in spite of being left alone at the Ramsey house for more than three hours in spite of repeated calls for backup.
Biggs said false accusations against Arndt “came from within the department” and that Koby and Beckner knew it.
Biggs said Arndt did not taint evidence on JonBenet Ramsey ’s body by putting a blanket over her.
“John Ramsey placed the blanket on the body,” she said.
Arndt also has been criticized for allowing Ramsey and friend Fleet White to search the house, but Biggs said Arndt told the two “not to touch anything.” John Ramsey carried the girl’s body upstairs after he found it in a basement wine cellar.
Biggs also defended Arndt’s decision to allow the Ramseys and several of their friends to “say goodbye to JonBenet” by going near the body after Arndt moved it into the living room.
The little girl’s mother, Patsy, reportedly threw herself on the body in a fit of hysteria, further contaminating it for evidentiary purposes.
In defending the department’s treatment of Arndt, Halaby said the 40-year-old former Boulder Detective of the Year sought the media in order to defend herself. Halaby accused Arndt of talking to a Vanity Fair reporter at the reporter’s hotel room and calling Denver Post columnist Chuck Green after he wrote a column criticizing the investigation.
The trial will feature its first witnesses this morning. Detective Larry Mason, the first witness, is expected to testify that some detectives were subject to a media gag order while others were allowed to talk to reporters without consequences.
It was Mason who received a $10,000 settlement from the department after former Cmdr. John Eller allegedly falsely accused him of leaking information to the media.
The trial is expected to last into next week.