Exclusive video: Denver deputy belted, then kicked inmate who posed no apparent threat

Deja vu all over again: Sunday’s excessive force case is latest in a string of misconduct cases

Exclusive video: Denver deputy belted, then kicked inmate who posed no apparent threat

 

This is the video Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration doesn’t want you to see.

On its own, it’s disturbing enough. It shows Denver Sheriff’s Deputy Thomas Ford booking a man into Denver’s downtown detention center, walking over to him, belting him in the face and then apparently kicking him. If there was provocation or a perceived threat from the inmate, Kyle Benton Askin, it’s unclear from the videotape.

What’s also not apparent from the video is that Sheriff’s Officer William Lewis, a 12-year veteran of the department, wrote an inaccurate report about the incident, according to a city news release.

“Sheriff (Gary) Wilson shares the community’s concerns as it relates to deputy misconduct and in March he created four Taskforces to conduct a top to bottom review of the Denver Sheriff Department,” the new release states.

Sunday’s beating and the misleading report about it aren’t lone incidents of official misconduct in Denver’s Sheriff’s Department. Not even close. Department officials have been the subject of a long string of misconduct cases.

Among them was the unprovoked beating of inmate Anthony Waller at the hands of Brady Lovingier, son of the department’s longtime head, Bill Lovingier. In that case, it took the city a year to discipline Brady Lovingier with a 30-day suspension. Even after beating Waller, Lovingier was kept on duty teaching fellow sheriff’s deputies techniques of use of force. Sheriff Gary Wilson claimed not to have known that Lovingier was teaching that class.

In federal court, city inmate Jamal Hunter has accused Sheriff’s Deputy Gaynel Rumer of planning and encouraging a violent attack against him in his cell in 2011. Rumer did not help Hunter while Hunter was screaming as fellow prisoners beat him. U.S. District Judge John Kane chastised the department for conducting an internal affairs probe that Kane called a “sham.”

Last month, Frank Gale, chief of the Downtown Detention Center, was put on a leave of absence as Denver police investigate whether he gave preferential treatment to his colleague, Sheriff’s Captain Sonya Gillespie, ex-wife of Sheriff Wilson, after she was booked in the jail on a domestic violence charge that later was dropped.

Watchdogs say the misconduct incidents have gone on too long, and are becoming too frequent, for Hancock to keep quiet and for his administration not to enact major changes.

“What are people who are arrested? Punching bags? I guess that deputy missed his workout at the boxing gym and was trying to make up for it,” Carol Oyler, a longtime critic of Denver’s Safety Department, said after seeing the video.

“This culture of being allowed to hit people, it comes from above. If city employees felt that they wouldn’t be able to get away with it, they wouldn’t do it. If the deputy is doing the punching, you’ve got to look at the safety manager and to the Mayor and ask what kind of culture are they creating where people feel comfortable acting so violently on the job,” Oyler added.

She pointed out that excessive force cases have continued under the watch of Safety Manager Stephanie O’Malley, daughter of former Mayor Wellington Webb. O’Malley, who was appointed in December, is the Hancock’s seventh safety manager in two years. Some of her predecessors resigned or were fired under scandal.

“It doesn’t matter who he appoints,” Oyler said of Hancock. “The same culture is being repeated over and over again. The Mayor is allowing this kind of misconduct to go on in our city unchecked.”

O’Malley has expressed concerns about misconduct in the sheriff’s department. Her office has said it’s making internal changes, including efforts toward more transparency about misconduct cases. Still, it cited efforts to “preserve the integrity of the criminal and administrative investigation” Wednesday in refusing to disclose the video of Ford beating Askin. It also has refused to release videotapes from other misconduct cases.

The Ford/Askin video — obtained through another channel in the department — was taped on Sunday while Deputy Ford was booking Askin, 29, on what city documents show was a warrant for an out of state offense. Askin is 6’2 and weighs 170 pounds. From the video, Ford looks at least Askin’s size.

Curiously quiet about the string of misconduct cases, including the handling of the jailing of Captain Gillespie his ex-wife, is Sheriff Wilson himself.

In a news release Wednesday, his office announced that Deputy Ford and Officer Lewis, six-and-a-half-year and 12-year veterans of the department, respectively, have been put on administrative leave with pay as the beating and inaccurate report about it are investigated.

Wilson has cited stress as a cause of so many misconduct cases in his department. He has asserted that a newly instituted series of “wellness programs” addressing the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being of deputies is key to the solution.

As some watchdogs see it, forthrightness — not stress management — is the problem.

“As a clergy person who has tried to give this administration the benefit of the doubt, I feel such a sense of betrayal by the continued lies we are being told around the magnitude of this problem. Can it be possible that what is obvious corruption in the Detention Center has morphed into a full blown conspiracy?” said the Rev. Reginald Holmes of Denver’s New Covenant Christian Church/Alpha Omega Ministries.

“Why is there such silence and such cursory actions taken against these sworn protectors. It is as if our sworn protectors are more of a threat to community than are those incarcerated. We need protection from our protectors!”

“We aren’t getting any significant redress from our Mayor, his Administrators, the DA, or the City Council around this assault on the community,” Holmes added.

Holmes is calling for a Department of Justice investigation of Denver’s safety system.

“This administration is totally incapable of policing itself,” he said. “The only solution is for the DOJ to come in and correct and clean up this mess. This IS a mess!”

[Photo by Karen Pilling via Flickr.]

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About the Author

Susan Greene

A recovering newspaper journalist and Pulitzer finalist. Her criminal justice reporting includes “Trashing the Truth,” with Miles Moffeit, and “The Gray Box.”
susan@coloradoindependent.com | 720-295-8006 | @greeneindenver

8 Comments

  1. Will Morrison on said:

    Anybody think to check this jerk off for steroids? Or ANY cops for steroids? Seeing as how the feds estimate that 25% of cops on the street are juicing, I wouldn’t be surprised if these cops who are out beating up people for no reason and at a moment’s notice are high as a kite on steroids. NORMAL people don’t just turn around and punch people for NO reason, but those on steroids are KNOWN to do things like that.

    It’s time to start holding cops accountable for their actions, and to drug test the freaking LOT of them. They do it to us, and WE aren’t the ones who have immunity for illegal actions. Since 9-11 we’ve let cops get away with pretty much anything they want, and this is the result. Time to end that mistake.

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  4. What is the Really Happening on said:

    I am concerned about the current atmosphere of “trial by press”. This article is prime example.

    Any investigation takes a lot of time. Video feeds from multiple cameras need to be studied frame by frame. Interviews need to be conducted and reports need to be read. Investigators need to find out what happened before and after the incident. Taking the time necessary to do this does not me there is a cover up.

    Clearly, however, Susan Green has already condemned the officers involved before due process has been achieved.

    And by the way, what are the “other channels” that she got her video from? She obviously does not have official authorization for it. Who is doing the manipulating here?

    I am not defending these Deputies innocents or guilt. But to infer that any outcome other than guilty is a coverup before the case has been fully investigated is irresponsible.

    Like any one else charged with a crime or rule violation, these Deputies need their day in court or to sit before a disciplinary board where all of the facts can be presented before being found guilty.

  5. g on said:

    Really “what is really happening”?

    The LEO walked over and decked the guy. What more is there to see.

    Likely that the person was taunting him but cops can’t just beat people. If I or you had done the same we would be jailed. And why the heii does the reporter need “official authorization”? That’s nuts.

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