DENVER — Denver’s safety department waited a year to discipline a sheriff’s deputy for grabbing a man who was appearing before a judge in a Denver County courtroom and slamming him into a wall.
The deputy, Brady Lovingier, is the son of Bill Lovingier, who headed the sheriff’s department from 2006 to 2010. The safety department disciplinary report on the incident found “no legitimate reason” for Lovingier to attack inmate Anthony Waller in Judge Doris Burd’s courtroom.
The judge had a full view of the September 11, 2012, assault and filed an excessive force grievance against Lovingier. But that didn’t speed up the investigation by a department that long has been criticized for downplaying – and, in some cases, ignoring – abuse by its officers.
A formal response didn’t come until late September 2013, when the city suspended Lovingier for 30 days for the kind of assault that would see a civilian arrested, convicted and incarcerated for in Denver.
“If he had killed me, would he have gotten 30 days?” Waller said in a statement to The Independent. “I was defenseless. I was addressing the judge, exercising my constitutional rights, and this is what I get? A savage beating?”
Waller was taken into custody on suspicion of assaulting a woman in an east Colfax motel.
Video and audiotapes obtained by The Independent show that deputies had shackled Waller in handcuffs, leg irons, a belly chain and black box — the highest level of restraint short of locking someone into a wheelchair — before escorting him into the courtroom.
During the court proceeding, known as a “first advisement,” Judge Burd explained why Waller was being held, advised him of his rights and outlined a schedule for legal procedures. Waller stood quiet at the podium while the judge spoke for about five minutes. There were no raised voices in the nearly empty courtroom. The four deputies in the room seemed relaxed as Waller stood listening to the judge. One even checked his cell phone.
After Judge Burd finished her advisement, Waller spoke. “Ah, yes, ma’am, I’d like to object first,” he told her. “If I’m under investigation, I thought the investigation came first and then the arrest came.”
Just as the judge started answering Waller’s objection — explaining that the city had the authority to hold Waller for three days before arresting him — Lovingier suddenly took hold of Waller from behind by the belly chain. Waller turned his head to look at Lovingier, who then yanked Waller violently by the chain, spun him around and slammed him into a large glass window. Waller collapsed onto the ground.
“Get on your feet,” Lovingier yelled. “Don’t turn on me. Get on your feet. Get on your feet.”
Waller, his head injured, groaned, “Oh, man, oh.”
“Get on your feet,” Lovingier repeated.
Deputies dragged Waller from the courtroom.
After some silence, Judge Burd finally spoke. “Oh, lah, lah,” she said.
Then, at least for the time captured on tape, she and her clerk went on with their work as if nothing had happened. Burd later filed the grievance against Lovingier in a move that’s rare for a judge.
Burd used the term “heavy duty” when later asked by internal affairs investigators to describe the attack. Her clerk described it as “a bit excessive.”
Judge Burd did not return a phone call asking for reaction to the fact that it took more than a year for safety officials to respond to her grievance. The probe resulted in a finding of “misconduct” — specifically “neglect of duty,” “carelessness in performance of duties and responsibilities” and “failure to observe the written departmental or agency regulations.” Lovingier plans on February 20 to appeal his 30-day suspension to the city’s Career Service Authority.
Waller sees the month-long suspension as a mere slap on the wrist. He calls Lovingier’s appeal of the disciplinary action a ”degradation to the sheriff’s department.”
“Every deputy should be offended due to the lack of professionalism exhibited by Deputy Lovingier. Anyone who looks at that tape can see what happened.”
Prior to his attack, Waller had served 19 years in prison for a sexual assault conviction about which he maintains his innocence. Seventeen months after Lovingier assaulted him, he is still in Denver jail awaiting trial on felony charges of kidnapping and assault related to the motel beating. Despite Waller’s rap sheet, safety department brass concluded in the Lovingier discipline report that “the record indicates… inmate Waller posed no threat to [Lovingier] or anyone else,”
City officials refused comment on the case, citing a concern for “potentially influenc(ing) the outcome” of Lovingier’s disciplinary appeal.
The deputy had worked for more than 11 years in the department his father used to run.
Documents obtained by The Independent detail Lovingier twisting the facts of the incident.
In a statement to police the day of the attack, this was his version of events:
“As we hit the glass Waller dropped his weight and he went to the floor. Since I already had his belly chain I eased him to the floor.”
His long series of statements to internal affairs investigators were dismissed as “unreasonable” and not factual. (Find examples in the excerpts posted here.)
In another interview, after watching a video of the assault, Lovingier asserted that “it appeared Mr. Waller tripped up on his leg irons when I turned him to regain control and leave the courtroom… It is also apparent to me that the trip accelerated our momentum toward the glass, which is why we got there so fast and appeared harder than I would have anticipated.”
Denver’s safety department has had seven managers in four years. It has faced heavy criticism after a spate of jail incidents, including the 2010 death of Marvin Booker after several sheriff’s deputies forcefully restrained him. The city has incarcerated deaf inmates without offering sign language interpreters. And it has a record of jailing innocent people in cases of mistaken identity.
In December, the official tasked with watchdogging Denver’s safety agencies released a 78-page study showing the sheriff’s department ignores incidents of staff misconduct. The report by Independent Safety Monitor Nicholas Mitchell found that the city:
– Failed to investigate serious misconduct, including “inappropriate force, non-consensual sexual touching and biased behavior by deputies.”
– Ignored a series of grievances against a small group of rogue deputies at the county jail. Four deputies in a force of more than 700 officers were the subjects of 16 percent of all inmate complaints.
– And hindered inmates’ ability to lodge grievances. This was especially a problem for Latino inmates for whom there were no grievance forms in Spanish.
Mitchell wouldn’t comment on the Lovingier case, nor on the year it took safety officials to investigate it.
Safety department spokeswoman Daelene Mix wrote The Independent that, “since the Lovingier case, the Denver Sheriff’s Department has reformed its disciplinary process to reduce major delays.
“Specifically, the Internal Affairs Bureau added two investigators to its staff to ensure investigations are conducted in a timely and efficient manner.”
Mix also noted that the department has adopted some of Mitchell’s recommendations regarding its grievance procedures.
Ken Padilla, Waller’s civil attorney, said the year-long lag time to investigate the attack and Lovingier’s suspension of only 30 days show “gross deep-seated endemic issues in the Denver Sheriff’s Department and the Denver Manager of Safety Office that the City and County of Denver has failed to address or correct.” Padilla is particularly concerned about a part of the audiotape when he said Lovingier, who is white, refers to Waller as “boy.”
“If a deputy sheriff thinks he can get away with viciously attacking a middle-aged Black man and calling him ‘a boy’ appearing in court, you can only imagine what happens to men and women in custody in the confines of the Denver city and county jails,” Padilla said.
Former Denver Safety Manger Fidel Butch Montoya said the video “is a shocking demonstration of a sheriff’s deputy taking advantage of his authority.” As someone who has meted out discipline in several misconduct cases, Montoya said a year is “an excessive time to make a determination of the video and audio elements of the case.”
Carole Oyler, a longtime activist who watchdogs police issues in Denver, points out that most civilians who attack someone in the way Lovingier hauled off on Waller “would not just have been suspended from their jobs, but also fired and (had) criminal charges filed.”
“There’s something way, way wrong with Denver’s disciplinary system,” she said. “Apparently members of the safety department are exempt from the laws that apply to the rest of us.”