Greene: That time a Denver cop made up excuses to handcuff a reporter

Greene: That time a Denver cop made up excuses to handcuff a reporter

Tina Griego – my colleague who’d normally edit this column – suggested that I calm down and sleep on it before writing.

Find your grounding, she urged me over the phone Thursday on one of her rare days off from our news desk.

That, of course, was sound advice that would have been workable but for the fact that I find my grounding by writing and I’m also so through-the-roof angry that I won’t sleep without having pounded my keyboard about my run-in with a Denver police officer.

It started with the sight of a black man, handcuffed and seated naked on a Colfax Avenue sidewalk across from the Statehouse, his private parts covered only with a small towel, while several Denver police officers stood around him.

As a journalist, I probably would have stopped in any case. But in this particular case, there was context for my interest. It stems partly from the fact that Denver sheriff deputies stood around the limp, lifeless body of Marvin Booker, a homeless, black street preacher, after they killed him in Denver’s jail in 2010. And it also stems from officers similarly having stood around Michael Marshall, a mentally ill, homeless, black man, after having fatally restrained him in 2015.

Given Denver’s history of uniformed officers harassing, hurting, or killing folks, sometimes without offering them medical help, it is part of my job to take notice of any questionable treatment of people in law enforcement’s custody.

That’s what I did Thursday when I was driving on Colfax and wondered why police were standing around a man they’d handcuffed and had sitting butt naked on the sidewalk without taking efforts to at least cover him up.

I parked and was using my iPhone to shoot pictures of the scene when Denver Police Officer James Brooks, badge No. 07030, blocked me, then got in my face and told me to stop. I said it was a public sidewalk and that I had the right to take photos. He said I didn’t. I said I did, citing the First Amendment. Officer Brooks tried to one-up me, all legal-like, by saying I was violating the man’s HIPAA rights by shooting his picture.

I wanted to say that was absurd.

I also wanted to say I was less interested in photographing the naked man than in photographing the officers standing around him who seemed to be shooting the breeze while I drove by.

But I decided to stop talking and to start shooting photos of this particular officer using his height and weight, his Denver Police uniform and his Cracker-Jack-brand legal poppycock to try to intimidate me.

As it turns out, Officer Brooks didn’t like having his picture taken. After accusing me of blocking the door of an ambulance that had been called to the scene – toward which he had prodded me during our encounter – and saying something about me obstructing officers, he grabbed me and twisted my arm in ways that arms aren’t supposed to move. At some point in the blur, either he or Officer Adam Paulsen, badge No. 08049, locked one or maybe two pair of handcuffs on my wrists, tightly, and pushed me toward a nearby police car by grabbing my arms hard enough – and with a painful upward thrust – that I told them to stop hurting me. Their response: That I was hurting myself by resisting.

But I wasn’t resisting. Not even close.

I had heard from my work reporting on several excessive force cases troublesome accounts of police injuring arrestees, yet claiming they injured themselves. But to hear it first-hand, uttered obviously for the benefit of whoever might some day review the body-camera footage, was infuriating. So infuriating, in fact, that now would be the point in this column where I might want to add a flourish like “fucking pig” and hope that Tina would let me get away with it (she probably wouldn’t).

My flourishes wouldn’t stop there. I’d have plenty of colorful things to write about the moment when the officers were pushing me toward the police car and one of them – Officer Brooks, I think – told me to “act like a lady.” Or maybe it was “try to act like a lady.” In any case, I’m curious to hear, after reviewing the body-cam video, Denver police officials explain how exactly a woman should behave on a perp walk after having been blocked from doing her job, obstructed from exercising her First Amendment rights, handcuffed and otherwise manhandled by an ignorant and over-amped police officer and his sidekick.

I’m also curious to see whether this incident will be addressed by Mayor Michael Hancock, who has promised reforms in his wayward Safety Department more times than I care to count. It’s worth noting that in May Hancock made an appearance at the Denver Press Club extolling the value of having a free and “unfettered” press covering the city. 

I made sure to be as ladylike as possible in a letter I sent the administration Thursday evening requesting, under Colorado’s Open Records and Criminal Justice Records acts, documents and recordings about the arrest of the naked man and about my own treatment. I also asked for details about whether Officer Brooks had training on First Amendment rights in case maybe he missed that day of police academy.

Note: As of Friday afternoon, police had offered no information except to say that the incident was a “medical call” and that the man in question – whom they wouldn’t identify – had been transported to the hospital without being arrested. I asked why he had been handcuffed, and department spokesman Jay Casillas said he didn’t know. “That I can’t tell you. I wasn’t there. It was a medical call,” he said in an account that seems curious given the message about “indecent exposure” I saw on the screen from the back of the police car.

Apparently at the urging of someone on the other end of his cell phone, Officer Brooks released me from the car, unhandcuffed me and let me free after what was probably 10 minutes, but seemed like longer.

I’ve been wondering since then what would have happened if I weren’t white or a journalist, or if I hadn’t mentioned those pesky “public sidewalk” and First Amendment details, or if this hadn’t gone down in broad daylight, right across the street from the state Capitol, and within view of body cameras, halo cameras and onlookers.

It has been nagging at me, the thought of Officer Brooks riding off on his motorcycle with his chip on his shoulder and legal misinterpretations in his head, his scripted “I’m-not-hurting-you, you’re-hurting-yourself” prevarications, and his apparently strong convictions about maintaining appropriate gender roles in incidents of police misconduct.

So I called Denver Police Department’s District 6 and spoke with Sgt. Shawn Saunders, who supervises Officer Brooks. He said he’d look into the incident and make sure the halo camera footage and other evidence are preserved for review. He gave me the option of filing a formal complaint against Officer Brooks. I told him I’d consider it, but that I don’t have a lot of confidence in Denver’s disciplinary system, which I’ve seen slap officers on the wrists for misconduct far more serious than this, only to have the Career Service Board side with the police union and overturn even the most meager disciplinary measures.

To that, Saunders offered a response that was at once striking yet maddening in its candor.

Yeah, he told me. “I don’t have a lot of confidence in it, either.”

Editor’s note: Because Tina Griego is taking a few days off, Mike Littwin edited this column.

Photos of Thursday’s incident, with Officer James Brooks at center, and of Susan’s handcuff marks, both by Susan Greene.

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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

74 Comments

  1. Steven on said:

    sounds like race had nothing to do with it and the cop was frustrated that your were painting him to be bigoted from the beginning. It sounds like(from your own description) that you were racist against the police from the beginning because of your Past experiences and the demographics involved, there was already prejudice at play in your mind.(which you attempt to “whitesplain” over to gain sympathy for the victim you are attempting to paint yourself as). It very well could have been the officer trying to protect the nude man from having his naked image used without his permission. similar to revenge porn laws.

  2. Rich on said:

    Sounds like a person with a cell phone wanted to exploit a naked homeless man and the police officer was a decent person that didn’t want that to happen. On a separate note, what kind of a publication would title an article ‘That time a…’? Reading this article was like listening to the ramblings of a 14 year old girl. You are not journalists and this is not a real publication. After your link to Drudge expires You will once again be irrelevant.

  3. Mark on said:

    This article reads like a second grade book report, and furthermore, is so full of unnecessarily derisive remarks about law enforcement officers that it makes me extremely dubious as to how much of this story is being spun to vindicate this reporter’s own angst towards police officers. Nice to see you have your own little cadre of kneejerk commenters who hate cops too, and that’s fine, but don’t expect me to buy too deeply into your story.

  4. Bob Suyak on said:

    This story is out now; because lying liberals want to insinuate Pres Trump instigated this against media, by telling the truth. what a..holes.

  5. chester richards on said:

    is it kind of strange that LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS find ways to skirt the law? i went to one of the “law enforcement classes” in my area that they give to the officers and it was taught by a jag (military lawyer}.

    having taken other classes and almost with a paralegal degree at that time i was astounded at the fact that the instructor told the officers in the class how to skirt the law. your tax dollars at work teaching officer how to violate the law made by the government that made the law to protect the people!!!

    i am now a elderly white person and witness the violations of constitutional law against the general population.

  6. Joe Gaskins on said:

    Having read your article via a link through the Drudge Report, and seeing the mass of idiotic statements from so-called conservatives (who I suspect, followed the link to your story…) I just wanted to offer my two cents as a humble conservative.

    What happened to you – what you reported happened and I have no reason to doubt you – is despicable and unacceptable. I really don’t care if you are a “dyed-in-the-wool socialist” (as one esteemed Solon wannabe put it). You, and I, and every other citizen of America are guaranteed the right of free speech via the First Amendment. And I will fight to preserve that right even though – ESPECIALLY IF – I disagree with you politically.
    I am disheartened by the caveats that many seem to attach to your right to film, report, and otherwise exist in public. The First Amendment does not cease to exist if someone has a medical issue in public. As you rightfully pointed out, the Officer attempted to misuse authority to bully you. This is shocking, 6 days after we celebrate the Independence of this country from this exact kind of thuggery.
    I strongly encourage you to file a complaint. I strongly encourage you to boldly continue to do your job. I strongly support your outright anger at the insanity and force displayed by a government, or any government, against a peaceable citizen.

  7. Will Morrison on said:

    Joe –
    If you’ll look at my comment, I don’t say there are any good ones. At this point, considering how INCREDIBLY RARE it is for one of them to stand up against the rest, I don’t think there are any actual GOOD cops left, if there ever were.

    Remember Serpico? There is a reason that was such a rare story. Even back when that came out, cops didn’t go against each other. And that was before the union. Now that they have that standing up and supporting their every move, they are invincible. They carry guns, sticks, tasers, are body armored to the hilt and STILL they insist that we are causing THEM to be afraid for their lives. But yet WE’RE not supposed to be afraid of THEM? Doesn’t seem terribly reason able.

    They are treating us like an occupied country, and for some reason this seems just fine with huge sections of the populace.

    The training cops get now seems entirely out of line with anything but an occupying force, and that’s why they are having these shoot first moments all over the country.

    Until we start making THEM pay for the results of their lawsuits instead of us, nothing is going to change. They have to be held accountable for their actions just like we are. In fact, with their cover of authority, they should have HIGHER standards than we do. Double or triple sentences for crimes, and ACTUAL investigations, NOT done by the friends and shop mates of the accused has to be a central point of that, of course.

    Since 9-11, cops are given free reign to do anything to “keep us safe”. What a cowardly attitude, it makes me sick to see it in this country. Home of the brave? RIGHT! It’s far braver to hold those who do wrong accountable than to let them run free for fear they’ll come after you.

    Trust me, there is no love lost between the cops and me. Never has been, never will be.

  8. Bverd on said:

    So many contradictions in this narrative that clearly a lot of it is fake and hyperbolic. For example one place she writes the man was covered with a towel, and another place that he was fully naked. The reporter obviously has a huge ideological bias and a cultural leftist agenda to grind, and her report sometimes sounds like an activist screed. It is clear that her view is clouded with a neo-Marxist and postmodern ideology. The reference to “white” and the generalization that ALL police officers have a history of police brutality just betrays her orthodoxies. And why does this Colorado publication hire such ideological and biased people as “reporters” – aren’t journalists not supposed to report matter with dispassion and fairness?

  9. PlainOldTruth on said:

    Bad American cops act like they are part of a Soviet, or Great Leap Forward, or Khmer Rouge Killing Fields police state National Socialist Workers Party. Film them. They are your servants. Uppity State employees are a plague upon humanity. We need to fire all of the surly, Constitution-hating parasites on public payroll.

  10. Zkb on said:

    Pretty one sided story. Sorry not buying it and neither is anyone else without a pre-existing animous toward the police you so blatantly and colorfully expressed. This is not journalism, this is blogging. This is why people no longer respect journalists. Please resign and save whatever little credibility this publication has intact.

  11. Jon Pharen on said:

    Filing a formal complaint is important, even if it does not bring you the immediate justice that might remedy your mistreatment.

    The complaint acts as a paper trail for officers with repeated incidents of citizen mistreatment… most are not caught in there first assault.

    Citizen review boards frequently see non-sanctioned officers with 8-9 virtually IDENTICAL incidents of mistreatment on their records before one is caught with overwhelming compelling evidence or an unassailable witness.

  12. Doug on said:

    So Tommy Robinson languishes in gaol for commiting the same act as the reporter in this story; thousands demonstrate on his behalf and there is ZERO media coverage. Watch, once Soros pumps in a few hundred thousand for paid protesters and gives the media their marching orders this concocted so-called “story” will be front and center for weeks.

  13. Lawrence Peck on said:

    I know this is only one side of the story by a reporter who obviously has a chip on her shoulder. But even if it is true, why in light of all the fake news that con only be regarded as an abuse of their First Amendment rights by so-called main stream journalists should we support them. They do not support law abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights when a few criminals abuse those rights. They don’t support Christians’ First Amendment rights either, so by what logic should we support their right to make up news stories to promote their political agendas? What goes around comes around.

  14. Ed Meyer on said:

    This is written by a reporter. Couldn’t read vast the gist 10 sentences. What a load! Snowflake writing irrelevant garbage.

  15. Jess Sain on said:

    Why do I get the feeling that MAGA would make her recoil like a Vampire from crucifix? I can only imagine how I would cope with trying to corral naked black men as part of my job description.

  16. Jesse Romero on said:

    It’s been going on for years. This, and far worse.

    It starts with the vulnerable. The out-groups. No one cares about them, so that’s fine.

    Then it just becomes SOP. By the time it happens to people with a platform, people with resources… it is entrenched.

    Me today; you tomorrow.

    Try speaking to the bottom 50 percent sometime. They might not want to discuss it. They’re too accustomed to being told “that doesn’t happen here”. “We’re a civilized society.” So they might not feel like discussing it. Remember #MeToo? People wanted to know why they didn’t come forward, why they didn’t say something. And yet they did. The victims told bosses, agents, they filed police reports.

    No one listened. Because they didn’t want the happy narrative to be broken.

    A journalist could earn several Pulitzers by finding out what really goes on as a matter of course in that America the bottom half has been regulated to, if only they had the ears to hear it.

    It’s amazing, the things that go on in a culture that refuses to believe the good guys are identified by good actions, rather than TEAM identity. It’s almost as if telling ourselves it can’t happen here is the very soil in which the worst of human nature thrives.

    I’m sorry this happened to you. It was wrong. I hope this becomes a world where doing wrong matters because people matter, and not just because you’re a person of education, resources and with a platform to whom they can’t get away with it.

    Everyone matters, or no one does. I want to live in only one of those worlds.

  17. Ed on said:

    Police union trolls trying to convince readers that what happened did not happen don’t get the fact that the police prevented a reporter from reporting by using physical force.

    Police states everywhere just LOVE that. After all, shouldn’t all citizens and all reporters REPORT TO the police? Only in countries filled with snowflakes would the police have to report to the citizens!

  18. Juneberry Sue on said:

    I’m a freelance journalist, and I also have a job working with people with developmental disabilities, brain injuries, and mental health issues. If I came upon the scene Ms. Greene photographed, I admit I’d be conflicted. Journalists certainly have the right to speak and a free press, and in many states, the right to record police actions on a public street. However, I’d consider the rights of the man in crisis, who may not have wanted to be in a photograph at that particular moment.

    However, with all the questions concerning police treatment of minorities, perhaps recording this particular incident would benefit this man. I wish him health in the future.

  19. dave d. on said:

    People doing good deeds are not concerned about being photographed, it shows them in a good light. If these cops were in fact doing their best, then being photographed would have shown them in a good light. But they felt they needed to stop the photography rather than demonstrate they were doing the right thing at the time.

  20. First Amendment Wrongs on said:

    The best comment is, “Yes Dear, it’s all about you.” Susan Greene cites her First Amendment rights while attempting to take completely unnecessary photos of a unclothed male who was very likely in a mental health crisis. The officers mentioned HIPPA rights, which means that they were trying to tell her that the gentleman was unable to protect himself due to a medical or mental health crisis, which should have been enough information. Ms. Greene had another agenda and was only interested in her own rights with a total disregard for the consequences of her disrespectful and distasteful photo. The photo should not have been printed -period.

  21. Sam Fetters on said:

    DPD are thugs with badges.

    It’s scary, Democrat or Republican, authoritarianism reigns supreme in the “Land of the Free”.

  22. Byron on said:

    In order to prevent rogue cops from repeating these types of violations of our rights, we need to be able to fire them and have them stay fired.

    A cop who gets his job back or gets paid for time lost or other such malarky provides no incentive for police to be accountable for their actions. Violating the rights of any suspect or of a citizen who witnesses a bad cop should be grounds for legal action that has teeth.

    A cop only gets the respect that they deserve – and that is based upon the actions that ALL cops show to We the People. That is how it is and how it should be.

  23. Scott Weiser on said:

    As a fellow professional reporter and photojournalist I can say without hesitation that what happened was a clear and blatant violation of both the First Amendment and Colorado statutes.

    The officer’s actions are specifically prohibited by Colorado Revised Statute 16-3-311-Peace officer incident recordings.

    This statute, passed into law in 2015 forbids exactly what happened here.

    State law also allows the victim to file a lawsuit that can result in a $15,000 punitive damages judgment against the agency under C.R.S. 13-21-128-Civil liability for destruction or unlawful seizure of recordings by a law enforcement officer.

    If it happened to me I’d file such a lawsuit in a hot New York minute and I think she should do so as well as a warning to DPD.

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