Sheriff’s employee of the month punched inmate posing no threat
Before Deputy Steven Valerio was fired, the city commended him for “exceeding expectations”
Here we go again. Yet another video of another Denver sheriff’s officer beating an inmate without provocation.
The latest shows Deputy Steven Valerio punching and manhandling an inmate who posed no apparent danger.
Valerio’s statements about the attack were wildly inconsistent with videos obtained through an open records request by The Colorado Independent.
During a meeting with his bosses, Valerio said, “I accept the discipline that will be coming to me because the inaccuracies that I saw were wrong.”
“I understand the improper force that was used. I saw that,” he added.
Valerio has apparently has changed his mind about accepting responsibility. He is appealing his firing during a hearing of the city’s Career Service Authority later this week.
Early in the morning on Dec. 26, 2012, Valerio was sitting at his desk in the jail’s housing unit 4B. Video footage shows that inmate Robbi Martinez stood and waited for about a minute before Valerio ended his call.
The inmate and the deputy gave similar accounts of their 30-second conversation. Martinez complained about “about an issue he was having with homosexuals in his pod,” according to Valerio’s discipline report. Martinez said he was not feeling well and was having “homicidal” and “bad thoughts about stabbing somebody.” He asked to be moved to a different housing unit.
In his written statement to the sheriff’s department, Valerio said he asked Martinez to take a seat for a moment because there were other inmates around the desk at the time. Video footage from several different angles shows there were no other inmates at his desk.
Valerio said in a written statement that Martinez threw the phone at him. The phone was never thrown, nor picked up by Martinez, as Valerio claimed. Rather, footage shows Martinez pushing the phone closer to the deputy – a move Martinez said was intended to prompt Valerio to call and arrange his move to a different housing unit.
Just as Martinez touched the phone, Valerio swung his right hand and punched Martinez in the face. Martinez stood looking at the deputy across the desk. Then Valerio came around the desk and, according to city documents, “may have again struck inmate Martinez” in attempting to put him in a hold position. Valerio threw Martinez to the ground, causing him to slam into the cinderblock desk.
Valerio continued to manhandle Martinez by yanking him from his handcuffed wrists to pull him to his feet. According to his disciplinary report, such moves are “not approved by department policy because of the high risk of injury to the restrained individual.”
Valerio failed to clearly state in written reports to the sheriff’s and police departments that he punched Martinez in the face. Those omissions, he later said, were unintentional.
He told investigators that he perceived an “extreme threat” from Martinez, but later admitted wrongdoing.
Before his attack on Martinez, Valerio – a 13-year veteran of the sheriff’s department – received an employee of the month award for having learned sign language through an online course and classes at the Community College of Denver so that he could communicate with two deaf inmates in his pod. Those efforts are significant in a department with a history of locking up deaf inmates without, as required by federal law and city policy, providing sign language interpretation.
The employee of the month commendation cited “Deputy Valerio’s calm and cool demeanor (as) the reason for the positive change in the sometimes high tension and difficult 4B pod.” It noted that he “always goes out of his way to assist” many of the inmates in the pod who have special needs.
Valerio’s employment evaluation from October 2013 — more than nine months after the attack — showed that he exceeded the expectations of his supervisors.
Still, the city fired Valerio one year, three months and 22 days after he attacked Martinez. His firing came two months after a controversy over the city’s handling of another excessive force case by Valerio’s fellow deputy, Brady Lovingier, who was caught on videotape grabbing a fully shackled inmate in front of a judge and slamming him into a courtroom wall. For that, Lovingier, whose father Bill Lovingier was the longtime head of the sheriff’s department, was suspended for 30 days – a discipline that was widely criticized as far too lenient.
It has been a week since Mayor Michael Hancock ousted Sheriff Gary Wilson and appointed Wilson’s buddy, Elias Diggins, as his temporary replacement until a national search turns up a new sheriff to, as Hancock puts it, “change the culture” of a department plagued by excessive force and misconduct.
The day of Diggins’ interim appointment, it came to light that he has a criminal record of “false reporting to authorities” after a 1996 car accident. Court records show Diggins pleaded guilty to trying influence the police officer and judge in his case.
Hancock’s administration apparently didn’t know about Diggins’ criminal conviction when making an appointment. City officials have not responded to inquiries about their stance on Diggins’ record of false reporting – a conviction that would disqualify new hires to the sheriff’s department.
[Video edited by The Colorado Independent. To see raw footage, go to The Independent’s YouTube page.]
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