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. Will Morrison on said:

    It seems that we have an epidemic in this country of cops who think they can make up laws whenever they want. And for some reason, those in power think that is just fine. Cops act like a gang now days, and that’s just not acceptable in what is SUPPOSED to be a free society.

    Since WHEN is it illegal for a REPORTER to be taking pictures of much of ANYTHING? This cop needs a major attitude adjustment. This is BULLYING under the guise of authority, and that’s just gang behavior. It SHOULD be dealt with harshly, but it won’t. We don’t punish cops for ANYTHING, anymore, with rare exceptions. We SHOULD. Until they are held accountable, we are NOT a nation of laws at all, and we should stop calling ourselves that. It’s a lie.

  2. Terry Cannon on said:

    I agree completely with Will Morrison’s comments.

    I also wonder if the “Stop resisting” phrase that cops routinely use while bullying, manhandling, or beating up the person they’re talking to is taught to them in police academies or is that from the union’s lawyers?

    While recognizing that there are many good cops, there are far too many out-of-control cops country-wide.

    The police unions stand up for these bad cops when they should be disciplining them to hold up the reputation of their departments and all uniformed officers.

    Police unions are not only ruining the reputation of police officers, but they are ruining the reputation of labor unions.

  3. Paula Stacey on said:

    Thanks Susan. That cop messed with the wrong woman yesterday. I’m sure this happens all the time to people who do not have your access to the media. So, that makes it vitally important that you continue to do your job. I applaud your bravery.

  4. JW Stephens on said:

    I also had a bad experience with Denver cops, the upshot being that I don’t go “down to Denver” any more, I don’t do business in Denver. Maybe they don’t miss my business, but Denver should.

  5. john in denver on said:

    I do hope you will follow up with a formal complaint, then continue with a false arrest suit (or at least a legal eagle’s threatening letter). While disciplinary action against individual officers may not result, another legal action may contribute to the eventual recognition among police officials, city attorneys and even elected officials that what is currently in place as training is insufficient in setting a culture of respect for citizen (and press) rights.

  6. Randy Chase on said:

    We may get a feel for how the new Chief of Police handles this kind of issue. I hope for the best.

  7. john in denver on said:

    PS … HIPAA restricts sharing of health information.

    Of course, guides to HIPAA specifically point out:
    Who Is Not Required to Follow These Laws

    Many organizations that have health information about you do not have to follow these laws.

    Examples of organizations that do not have to follow the Privacy and Security Rules include:

    Most law enforcement agencies

    For additional detail about how Officer Brooks has no clue about the function of HIPAA, readers can consult
    https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-individuals/guidance-materials-for-consumers/index.html

  8. Joe Sef on said:

    Terry, Will, and Susan. If any one of you could show me where the good cops are; the one’s who would stand against the actions of this punk with a badge, I’d give you a gold star, shake your hand, and thank you. Problem is, you’re not going to be able to show me. Why you ask? Because for the last good number of years, American POlice have been taking free trips over to the terrorist state of Israel by way of the ADL and JINSA so they can receive training from the IDF on how to deal with Americans the way they deal with the Palestinians. How else can one explain why American pigs have killed over 1,000 Americans in each of the last 3 years? What else could be behind their callous disregard for the rights of the people they’re supposed to ‘serve and protect’? And in case you haven’t heard, in Warren v. District of Columbia, the POlice are under no legal obligation to protect individuals or their safety. So why are they there? What purpose do they serve? The answer is pretty simple. Every town, city, county, state, state agency, federal agency & the federal govt as a whole are corporations, and any corporations’ main objective is to provide profits to their share-holders. Don’t believe me? Look up the ‘Organic Act’ of 1871 where the United States Corporation was founded in the District of Columbia. And if we look at the actions of the CIA, FBI, NSA, DHS, TSA, BATF, BLM and all these other alphabet soup agency’s that aren’t even supposed to exist under our Constitution, doesn’t the word OPPRESSION come to mind???
    If that’s just a bridge too far for you and you need to keep it simple, I suggest you at least take a look at the following clip, then look into Wolfgang Halbig and his recent bombshell discovery regarding Sandy Hook. https://youtu.be/Gb9rgo6RDuc

  9. Sue on said:

    Your an idiot. Get a real job and leave guys who put their lives on the line everydaya alone. Take a cold shower….something. Leave the cops alone. Or go live in a country where you don’t need protection. A few bad cops ….and your misplaced frustrations….and boy – got a story! You’re an ass.

  10. Elected Public Official on said:

    You have every right to film anything in public. Your filming cannot obstruct officers and you can be asked to back off a off you distance (which you should do) Many courts have already ruled on thhis. Write everything down, get a good attorney and bring charges against the police officer and department. Settle out of court and collect a check unless you want to make a point.

  11. TR McCoy on said:

    Frankly, I don’t agree with the actions of the officers, but I am also fed up with arrogant self-serving reporters that could probably tell the needed story from 30 feet farther away and avoid the personal confrontation that this turned into. Instead, we know, effectively, nothing about the event on the street and, instead have to listen to someone make the story about themself. That’s pretty pitiful. Over the years as reporters have felt the need to manufacture as much emotion and sensationalism into this stuff as possible in their eternal pursuit of personal glory and “gosh……. Maybe a Pulitzer”, they have lost common decency and sense as well. Well, enjoy your glory, Ms Greene……………..(gag)

  12. Bob on said:

    Did you think the police took off his clothes. The policeman had a right not to have you in the way and not in his face. You can take pictures just as well from 10 yards away. Stop being a public nuisance. I hope you do some jail time.

  13. Mike Coleman on said:

    In your rush to hate the police, please consider that poor and most likely mentally ill person sitting naked on the sidewalk. Was the lessening of whatever shred of dignity he had left by photographing him worth this story? Your bias is made obvious by the way you described the situation you attempted to film, as if that poor man was somehow in need of protection from the fourth estate when most likely he just needed to be hospitalized and evaluated by mental health professionals.

    Police many times overstep their authority, but I think the initial reaction from the office was appropriate. There was no “need” to film this poor man and you know it. Just because you have a right doesn’t mean it was proper.

  14. Ceefour on said:

    The fact that the arresting officer cut you lose is prima facie evidence that he knows he did something wrong and that can be used as evidence in your civil suit against ET AL.

  15. SammyD on said:

    To answer Will Morrison’s question, “Since WHEN is it illegal for a REPORTER to be taking pictures of much of ANYTHING?” Reporters, journalists in general, are not a special privilege class of citizen. No where in the Constitution of the United States of the Bill of Rights does it state that they are. The First Amendment is for the citizenry, not some specialized, exclusive group. It is written as “the press” (individual citizen) and not as “the Press” (for-profit corporations). In olde English, capitalization was very important to note. The Founders were well aware of the propaganda capabilities of the latter. That is why they were sure that the importance of Free Speech was cemented for the People. So Mr. Morrison, journalists and professional photographers don’t have special privileges endowed to them. It is only implied by errant folks, such as yourself.

  16. MaryF. on said:

    Will Morrison: “It seems that we have an epidemic in this country of cops who think they can make up laws whenever they want.” The U.S. Supreme Court essentially gave its blessing to this behavior in the Heien v. North Carolina decision a few years ago.

  17. Corrupt Federal Mafia on said:

    When the government is criminally corrupt like the FBI, then local law becomes corrupt and an enemy of the people. Hense, what you see here and all over America. We call it the blue line of corruption.

  18. ron on said:

    So, you were given a chance to have your hand held through the process of filing a formal complaint, and you refused? I know it probably wouldn’t have made any difference, but the only way to deal with pigs like this is to build a record. So, you bleat on “social media” instead?
    And – just curious – what difference does it make that the guy they’re dealing with on the sidewalk is a “man of color?” One of the pigs is also a “man of color.” Does THAT make a difference, too?

  19. Todd on said:

    For such a fairly normal everyday occurrence in the city (the arrest), the cop sure seemed to act suspiciously, like something was not right and he went out of his way to block the reporter from recording it. Was there anything more to the original arrest? Was he just sensitive to being seen arresting a person of color? Or was just a rotten apple?

  20. Ben on said:

    Cops have a tough job to do. They deal with some of the worst people that are privileged to walk among us on a daily basis. Try walking A few tours in their shoes before crying a river about how you were treated. You have no idea what transpired before you came on the scene with your sense of outrage, prejudgement and entitlement.

  21. Ned on said:

    So if you were lying down on the street naked would you want some cracker jack taking photos and posting it on the internet? No, you wouldn’t, and that’s exactly what you did. You are a class A jerk for doing that. It doesn’t matter if his face is not visible he is likely still identifiable to some people. Yes, you have the right, but yes you are a big fat jerk for doing so.

    You stuck your nose into this business and made this incident more difficult for the police officers. In my opinion, they were right to tell you to stop taking photos or video of the naked guy.

    It is plainly evident that you have negative bias against all of the individual police officers present at this arrest even though these may be really good officers and people. I feel pretty confident your version of the story is also biased against the officers.

    In addition to being a jerk, you are really annoying too. Imagine having someone who is very negatively biased against you standing there taking pictures of your every move just waiting to take some little thing out of context and make you look like a bad person. I can only imagine what you were saying to them and the looks on your face.

    The fact that you were over by the ambulance coupled with your general annoyance more than legitimizes your temporary custody while they get their work done. I don’t care if you say “they pushed me over there” you were ultimately responsible for being there in the first place. It’s really amazing what police officers have to put up with. Not only do they have the fear every day of being randomly shot in the face when they walk up to a traffic stop or domestic dispute, they also have to put up with whining, annoying, jerks like you.

  22. mac on said:

    Police and other specialists are taught to grab the the arm or wrist or chain of handcuffs and to use this leverage to lift the hands and arms of the person to be controlled…try it yourself…have some hold both your wrists from behind and have them lift them upward…the pain / pressure will shove your upper body into a bent over position and if pushed very high, your head will be the level of your knees unless you fall down…this taught as CONTROL TACTICS an many would be warriors love to use “control by pain ” methods to very abusive levels…over aggressive ? very many ” thugs ” wear badges as ” right to inflict ” not Protect and Serve

  23. White Guy on said:

    Let’s reverse roles here…what if a black guy (maybe he’s a journalist, but does it really matter?) stopped his vehicle and got out and started filming a mentally ill naked white woman on the sidewalk covered only with a small cloth?

    Where would the outrage lie then?

    God bless law enforcement – they’re in a no-win situation in almost everything they do these days.

  24. Jim on said:

    There has been so much manufactured outrage for the past 18 months or so that I simply don’t care to read about a “journalist” getting cuffed up. A few years ago I probably would have been interested, but between wholesale fake news, hatred towards police, hatred toward people who simply disagree and the never ending drumbeat of media/celebrity types airing out grievances hour by hour I’ve just decided to hell with it and to hell with them.

  25. Bea Ladylike on said:

    You lefties need to learn to respect authority. When Law Enforcement, hint, authority, tells you to move on and quit taking pictures with your little play camera, DO WHAT YOU ARE TOLD TO DO. You would have been booked, if it had been up to me. I’m glad it upset you. Now, learn from your ignorance and please try to act lady like!

  26. Jim on said:

    Cops deal with liars,crazy people and criminals ALL DAY LONG. The hate the public and I am pretty sure I would too. If a cop tells me to move I move. Go find something else to whine about

  27. Charles on said:

    I believe the only way to put an end to these abuses is to change the law so that when a law enforcement agency is sued for abusing their authority, whether by bullying, or arresting, up to unjustified killings, any monetary award must be paid out of the retirement fund for that law enforcement agency. When the good veteran cops realize they could be retiring without a pension due to the actions of a few bad cops, they’ll police their own ranks pretty darn quickly.

  28. Tim Gibfried on said:

    You’re part of the problem by complaining but not filing a formal complaint, regardless of your expected outcome. The records are needed in the case an investigation is elevated beyond the Denver police. The longer you wait to make the complaint, the less believable it is.

  29. Gary on said:

    It’s just what you gimme people need. We need more cops like this. I know it’s tough and the hand cuffs hurt. I think they have some cuffs that have velvet that would be a lot better for your tender skin.
    I just emagine your kind of reporting.

  30. Charles Ynman on said:

    Your job is to comply with the instructions of a police officer. If you have a complaint ask him to give you a citation and take it up with a judge and not with a police officer. If you presented yourself similar to your article than it must have been difficult for the officer. He is putting his life on the line , unlike yourself , his whole working day. You paint all police officers with the same brush and you have written your article to make yourself feel better. It was not written to inform citizens but to make yourself feel better. I am not a police officer but I have never been treated by an officer except in a respectful manner . You appear to have a bad attitude toward police officers and you are a known offender. Semper Fi.

  31. Mark on said:

    Another good reason to stay out of big cities. All of them if possible. I driver an extra 50 miles if I have to.

  32. Paul Bernard on said:

    I’m not hear to defend the police, but what type of preconceived bias does a reporter have saying; “when a man of color is sitting naked and handcuffed on a sidewalk, with nothing but a hand towel over his private parts, and several police officers are standing around him chatting, it’s worth taking notice.” It’s obvious that the naked person on the ground has issues and it appears that the police and EMT’s were trying to help him. What were you thinking covering this story? That the police did something wrong to the guy? And yes, the police were absolutely wrong to handcuff the reporter. But after reading the article, I have little confidence in objective journalism here.

  33. 2waystreet on said:

    We’re only reading one side, in todays world, it really helps to have video proof of something like this. Not saying it didn’t happen this way, but to utilize your powerful professional media tools to disclose your side with no proof, I’d say thats bordering irresponsible. While there are some bad apples, most Officers of the law put their lives on the line every day to protect.

  34. Arthur Mofodopoulis on said:

    The President of the United States has identified the press as “the enemy of the American people,” and purveyors of “fake news.”

    This stalwart officer was merely following his president, who would like to see many more reporters locked up.

  35. Tom on said:

    They teach these cops to do this at the academies (e.g.- “you’re hurting YOURSELF”, “He’s reaching for a gun”-with six cops on top of perp,”I feared for my life”-after shooting someone 17 times). Imho, if soldiers doing a night raid in Afghanistan can’t shoot an unarmed man 17 times without being punished (they would be), then cops shouldn’t be able to either…

  36. Ben Over on said:

    WTF….Joe Sef
    Can you say “ conspiracy whack job”
    Too many laced brownies & spliffs at work with this tool
    If it was a white guy in the same situation…..she’d just keep driving but since it “may” be a race base issue NOW THATS NEWS …..real or invented
    Just saying!!!

  37. Ben Over on said:

    WTF….Joe Sef
    Can you say “ conspiracy whack job”
    Too many laced brownies & spliffs at work with this tool
    If it was a white guy in the same situation…..she’d just keep driving but since it “may” be a race base issue NOW THATS NEWS …..real or invented
    Just saying!!!
    Let’s keep it fake

  38. Casper on said:

    COPS are trained to lie to defend their BS. I’ve spoken with many EX police and sheriff officers who left based on the BS they themselves have witnessed to save another cop from going to jail. It’s indeed a brotherhood of lying for each other.

  39. Didius Julianus on said:

    I have lived in New Zealand for 7.5 years now and the difference between the police in the two countries is remarkable. NZ police are much more like “Officers of the Peace” (what we used to think U.S. police were like), not “Law Enforcement Officers”. The cop shows over here show police routinely handling drunk drivers and highly disrespectful and verbally abusive and even some minor people with amazing patience and non-existent or minimal physical force. People in the U.S. would be shot most likely if they acted like that to the police. That said, the trend you experienced first-hand is taking place all over the western world, NZ is just 30+ years behind the U.S. in the way the cops behave (thankfully). More broadly: There are no actual rights or constitutional protections for average people of any race or sex and this change has been relatively subtle but going on for well over 100 years so that the U.S. would not be recognisable to people from 100 years ago and this change is accelerating.

  40. Chet Goodman on said:

    I am a white professional who has been a law-and-order type forever but unfortunately found myself in a position to experience the unnecessarily machismo posture of a police officer and saw their cynical tricks first hand. Along with the drafting of a police report that his own dash cam could not support. (Be mindful of an officer who marches you away from the dash cam – nothing good follows.) A cover up followed with the help of the union and senior officials who lied repeatedly to my attorneys about my rights and access to evidence. Yes, you get the distinct impression that this is (a) coached in advance and (b) far from uncommon. This report has the ring of truth to it.

  41. Mike on said:

    I think the police should have followed up and taken this obstructionist to jail. She sounds like a career cop hater with no good intentions from the time she got out of her car.

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