The Boulder city attorney alleged this week that the possible grave site marker near Valmont Cemetery that was removed by city workers on April 23 may well have been a fraud.
The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office has determined that no crime was committed in the city’s removal of the rocks, which were positioned in the shape of an encircled cross and featured a weathered cross made of sticks.
In an April 25 statement, city officials acknowledged that its workers had removed the marker after its contract archeologist and Native American monitor hired for the Valmont contamination cleanup determined that it was not a historic artifact. The city claimed in the statement that the marker had only been there about a month, even though regular visitors say the marker had been there much longer. During Boulder Weekly staff’s periodic visits to the site since late January, the marker was observed several times.
During a public comment period before city council on May 1, members of the Valmont cemetery association expressed their dismay that the city would have removed the marker without communicating with them at all. Jody Harper, who has numerous family members buried at the cemetery, asked why the stones are being kept in a city staff member’s office, and she asked council members to put themselves in her shoes.
“I’d like you to think a minute about how you’d feel, the cemetery that your family and loved ones are buried in, and imagine the huge earthmovers and the dust and the desecration of their final resting place,” she said, her voice breaking.
But City Attorney Tom Carr reacted strongly to the suggestion that the city was at fault.
“This was very disturbing,” he said.
“Someone came onto city property and created a circle of rocks, clearly from freshly dug up rocks. The dirt was still apparent, the rocks were still wet. … It is very troubling if someone tried to commit a fraud by creating a grave site on city property. The city is spending thousands and thousands of dollars to carefully mitigate the damages up at Valmont Butte, and these accusations, and really serious accusations, that a city employee would desecrate a grave are really unfounded and unfortunate.”
He passed around an iPad so that Deputy Mayor Lisa Morzel, who was running the meeting, and other council members could see photos of the rock marker.
“I would ask that at some point we make these available to the members of the public to see as well,” suggested council member Tim Plass. “Tom, is that a problem?” “Uh, I don’t know,” replied Carr. “I assume so, but I don’t know.”
“It just seems awkward to me that we’re seeing photographs that the public isn’t seeing,” Plass responded.
Council member Ken Wilson countered, “But the public is making accusations in public, without warning.”
Morzel, noting that the situation has been marked by friction and distrust, suggested that city officials could have at least communicated with the cemetery association. “If there had been a question, maybe they could have been brought into it and looked,” she said.
“I don’t see that,” Carr countered. “We have a structure for dealing with archeological remains, and it does not include people other than the archeologist we’ve hired and the Native American monitor.”
Morzel noted that during the examination and removal of the marker, cemetery representatives were unable to access the property because the locks on the cable blocking the driveway were repositioned.
“It’s interesting that we’re getting emails from the Valmont cemetery association telling us about their inability to access their cemetery, and during this week, when they can’t get in, all this stuff happens,” Morzel said.
“You’re not suggesting the city had anything to do with it,” Carr replied.
“No, I’m not making any judgment on it at all, but I have to listen to all sides,” Morzel said.
“I understand, but this was a very expensive act that involved a trespass on city property and could have been some form of fraud,” Carr responded. “It certainly wasn’t a grave. … And yet you heard folks come up here tonight and accuse city employees of desecrating a grave. I think that’s outrageous.”
Plass suggested that the parties get together and resolve the areas of conflict.
“The fraudulent creation of markers?” councilmember Ken Wilson asked incredulously.
“Well, you don’t know that,” Morzel replied.
“Well, we just had a report from our attorney that suggested that the experts came in and in fact determined that, Lisa,” countered councilmember George Karakehian. “So I think we do know it, unless we’re going to question our own attorneys and the monitor, so I’m sorry, but … this bothers me. This really bothers me. I’m up to here with this. For us to put any weight in those accusations is wrong.
“We bend over backwards to make things right, and then Lisa, you say something about access,” he continued vehemently. “We’ve received email after email that we are not responsible for access. Then we spend thousands and thousands of dollars, according to Tom, on evaluating and bringing in experts to see if these are relics, and they’re stones that somebody dug up. I’m sorry, but in my own opinion, this is a total waste of time.
“I am absolutely not interested in sitting down to try to bring the groups together,” Karakehian concluded. “About what? There’s nothing to bring people together on, other than accusations that are made which are wrong. I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it, and I don’t want to go there and make this any bigger of a deal than it already is.”
Councilmember Suzy Ageton agreed, noting that the sheriff’s office had closed its investigation.
“Unless there is some other evidence that someone wishes to bring to that investigative body, I don’t see where we go with this,” she said.
“We just need to be sensitive to those concerns,” Morzel responded. “I’m concerned that this whole thing is kind of exploding, and it doesn’t need to explode.”
Asked for her response to Carr’s characterization of the marker as a hoax, Harper said Wednesday, “I get the feeling that they think we put it there on purpose, and I don’t appreciate being called a fraud and a liar.”
While there is a Colorado law against the “desecration of venerated objects,” that statute is violated only if a person “knowingly” desecrates a burial site. Cmdr. Rick Brough of the sheriff’s office told Boulder Weekly that because city workers called in their consultants and believed it wasn’t a grave site, the city’s action would not constitute a “knowing” desecration.
“So, for that reason, I feel that they didn’t knowingly commit a crime,” Brough said, adding that the city is not going to be remediating or excavating at the spot where the rock formation was found. He said no attempted exhumation is planned in part because cemetery association members don’t want the site disturbed further.
As a result, it may never be known what, if anything, was buried under the marker.
When asked whether the stones would be returned, city spokesperson Jody Jacobson said “we haven’t decided what we’ll do with them yet.”