DENVER — A city sheriff’s deputy, unprovoked, slammed a fully shackled prisoner into a window of a Denver courtroom. His account to city investigators was found to have been largely untruthful. The deputy — a son of the former head of the sheriffs department — was suspended for 30 days. He appealed his suspension last week during a hearing in which he and other uniformed officers, under oath, gave accounts of the attack that bore no relationship to what’s visible on videotape.
And get this: Nobody in charge at the City and County of Denver has anything to say about it.
“It’s reprehensible that leadership doesn’t have enough backbone to stand up and say this is wrong,” said Rev. Reginald Holmes, pastor of Denver’s New Covenant Christian Church/Alpha Omega Ministries.
“It’s a sad state of affairs that no one is willing to step up and say we’re going to monitor this case and make sure justice was done,” added Butch Montoya, Denver’s former safety manager who now directs a Latino faith initiative.
Mayor Michael Hancock, Safety Manager Stephanie O’Malley and Sheriff Gary Wilson all have refused to comment about the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in which sheriff’s Deputy Brady Lovingier slammed inmate Anthony Waller into a wall in a courtroom in front of Judge Doris Burd. The judge sought an excessive force investigation into Lovingier, son of Bill Lovingier, the former longtime head of the sheriff’s department.
It took the city a year to investigate the attack even though videotape clearly show Lovingier grabbed Waller from behind by his shackles and slammed him into a courtroom window. The disciplinary delay is consistent with what Denver’s Independent Safety Monitor Nicholas Mitchell has complained is a long pattern in the sheriff’s department of ignoring incidents of excessive force.
Mitchell — whose job is to independently watchdog the police and sheriffs department — won’t comment on Lovingier’s attack, saying it could jeopardize his relationship with those agencies.
Mitchell’s silence as well as the silence of the sheriff, safety manager and mayor raise questions about what Denver’s leaders deem acceptable among the city’s uniformed officers — and whether they’re even paying attention.
Lovingier, who is white, called Waller “boy” during the attack. He testified it wasn’t a racial slur, but rather a casual expression “like ‘oh boy’.”
Waller was shackled in handcuffs, leg irons, a belly chain and black box while Judge Burd was advising him of his rights when Lovingier suddenly hauled off on him.
Reverend Holmes says the beating brings back memories of Marvin Booker, a homeless street preacher who died in 2010 after sheriff’s deputies tried to subdue him with a choke hold and stun gun in the booking area of the city jail. No one was charged or disciplined for his death.
“There was a lack of response then — a tragic incident that happened to a black man behind closed doors of the jail. And there’s a lack of response now — a beating of a black man in an open, public courtroom,” said Holmes, whose Uptown Denver parish is largely African-American. “Let’s just say it’s surprising that a black mayor, a black sheriff and a black manager of safety are staying quiet about this case.
“By not saying anything, it’s like waving to the rest of the community this is normal, this is OK, this is tolerated in the city.”
Montoya, who managed the safety department from 1994 to 2000, questions why, after finding that Lovingier used excessive force against Waller, the department kept him on its Emergency Response Unit – the team of deputies dealing with the most difficult prisoners. Montoya also questions the so-called “disciplinary matrix” that officials say limited their ability to discipline Lovingier beyond a 30-day suspension.
“Look at what happened in a courtroom in front of judge. These are extenuating circumstances. I don’t care what the matrix says. I might have even fired him,” he said.
Lovingier’s “use of force” report found he had “no legitimate reason” to attack Waller while Judge Burd answered the inmate’s question about why he was being jailed without having been arrested. It also found that Lovingier misrepresented facts to internal affairs investigators (find examples in the excerpts listed here.) One example was his claim that Waller merely tripped into the window.
Some Denverites took particular umbrage when they learned that Lovingier had until a Colorado Independent news report last week been teaching fellow deputies in-service training courses on when to use excessive force and how to write honest and accurate reports about excessive force cases. Sheriff Wilson said through a spokesman that he was unaware that Lovingier was teaching those course and that he is yanking him from those duties.
“We expect the city to act expeditiously to remove violent officers from the department and ensure that they are not endangering our communities by passing along to others their abusive behaviors,” said Miriam Peña, executive director of the Colorado Progressive Coalition. “We also expect those who commit violent acts to be subject to the same laws that govern all of us.”
Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey’s office decided not to prosecute Lovingier for the attack.
At his disciplinary appeal hearing last week, Lovingier was asked about a department finding that he hasn’t taken full responsibility for hauling off on a defenseless inmate without provocation.
“I am accepting full responsibility for my actions,” he testified. “When I acted that day, it was out of necessity to take care of my responsibility.”
Lovingier and his lawyer refused interviews, including inquiries about his repeated claims that — despite what videotapes show — Waller posed a threat in the courtroom and tripped into the window. Several other uniformed officers repeated that narrative under oath.
“As silly as it may sound, I really think that (Deputy Lovingier) was trying to protect Mr. Waller, prevent injury… and I think he did so,” testified Michael O’Neill, a retired veteran of the Denver Police Department who was hired as an expert witness for Lovingier’s appeal effort.
The only city official to publicly raise criticism of Lovingier was Judge Burd – under oath as a witness last week at Lovingier’s appeal.
“I felt it was unnecessary force,” she testified, noting that in 25 years on the bench, “I’ve never seen somebody hit or struck in that way.”
Burd refuted Lovingier’s and his colleagues’ story that Waller crashed into her courtroom window because he tripped on his leg irons.
“He was swung by the deputy from behind.”