Choice of safety manager Perea questioned by advocates early on

DENVER — The short career of Denver Manager of Safety Ron Perea came to a close Monday when he resigned after his handling of major law enforcement incidents was criticized by both community advocate groups, Denver’s Citizen Oversight Board and the Independent Monitor’s office.

Citizen advocacy groups seriously questioned the hiring of the former Secret Service agent in interviews with the Colorado Independent in March. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper again defended his choice on Monday.

“Ron came to Denver with all of the right credentials and experience to lead the Department of Safety,” Hickenlooper said in a release. “He feels that the events of the past few days have limited his ability to gain community confidence. Ron is a true professional who has spent his entire career unselfishly serving the public and his country. We wish him well as he decides his next steps.”

Perea has been embattled since his decision not to fire two officers caught on tape in 2009 beating two men, one of whom was tossed to the ground while talking on a cell phone. The officer’s involved later tried cover up the incident.

Perea chose to discipline the officers for covering the act up but did not conclude they used excessive force. His decision flew in the face of Denver Independent Monitor Richard Rosenthal’s recommendation to fire the officers. Rosenthal said the officer’s statements represented “pure fiction.”

The incident led Hickenlooper to call for an FBI investigation and prompted Latino and African American groups to call for Perea’s ouster.

Another case involved the death of Marvin Booker, who was being held in Denver’s new jail until a coroner’s report announced that he had died as the result of “cardiorespiratory arrest during physical restraint.” Booker was put in a choke hold by Denver sheriff’s deputies, tasered, and left in his cell. The coroner ruled the death a homicide.

As a result of the incident, Perea put a temporary ban on choke holds as a restraint method pending further review.

Community leaders held a church service at the jail calling for Perea’s resignation. Those groups increasingly questioned Hickenlooper’s ability to properly staff the position.

“The mayor says ‘don’t get upset with the manager of public safety,'” Timothy Tyler, pastor of Shorter A.M.E. church, said while conducting the service. “‘This job is new to him,’ that’s what he said. ‘He’s never done this before’ … What the heck did you give him the job for if he don’t know what he’s doing?”

Perea was hired after a selection process that, while it incorporated some advocate groups, such as the Colorado Progressive Coalition, lacked the transparency that many community representatives desired at the time.

Lisa Calderon, an activist for citizen’s rights in Denver, told the Colorado Independent at the time of Perea’s hire that she wasn’t thrilled with the notion of having Perea, a former special agent and executive board member for the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force , as the head of police oversight. The Colorado Independent interviewed Perea prior to the Democratic National Convention in 2008, tapping his expertise on cyber-crime.

Calderon said she wanted someone who was more involved with interacting at the community level. While Calderon was angered at the lack of community involvement in the decision making, Art Way — Civil Rights Organizer for the Colorado Progressive Coalition, who served on the selection committee — had expressed his willingness to give Perea the benefit of the doubt.

“Being Secret Service I think that he will come in with a fresh perspective over policing a community of color, being proactive and doing something about profiling,” Way said.   

Perea’s resignation is effective Aug. 31. Deputy Manager of Safety Mary Malatesta will take over as interim manager of safety until a new manager can be found.

While no time lines have been created for a search process, it appears Calderon may have another chance for greater community involvement.

The Perea saga, meanwhile, dredges up police brutality accusations that surfaced during the DNC and came to a boil after the convention when police were caught selling “Beat the crowds” T-shirts.

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