Denver Sheriff’s Department talks ‘matrix,’ but we need justice

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his past Monday, members of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance and the Latino Faith Initiative met with Denver officials to discuss misconduct among members of the city’s Sheriff’s Department. In particular, we addressed the incident involving a Denver deputy who viciously brutalized an inmate inside a Denver courtroom. The prisoner — who was shackled and cuffed — was slammed into a wall and hurled a racial slur by the officer, Brady Lovingier.

Lovingier is white. The inmate, Anthony Waller, is black.

The city’s position on the videotaped attack has been and continues to be “our hands are tied” by the “matrix” – the legal framework used to mete out discipline in misconduct cases. The officer’s punishment for committing this Jim Crow/Apartheid type brutality was a 30-day suspension. As Mayor Michael Hancock’s deputy safety manager told us, the 30-day suspension was significant and came as a sizable penalty for officer Lovingier.

I found that response unbelievable and insensitive when you consider the level of violence used by Lovingier in his unprovoked beating. I have no doubt that the inmate was “concussed” in the attack. I imagine he also suffered the psychological effects of being abused and brutalized so randomly and viciously. I wonder if Mr. Waller thought Deputy Lovingier’s punishment matched his pain.

We were told repeatedly by the city attorney and safety administrators that no one is really responsible. No real accountability was expressed by anyone in city government. We were told it is not expedient for the city to admit to wrongdoing, given the litigation typically sought by officers appealing their suspensions. The city attorney was present and protective. He was there to make sure no one overstepped his or her verbal and legal bounds. The “bottom line,” we were told by Mayor Hancock and his staff, was that the city could not and did not want to put itself or its deputies and officers in a vulnerable position legally and, I assume, financially by commenting on the attack.

We made it clear that our bottom line was people, not dollars.

In 2010, the city was similarly unaccountable after the death of Marvin Booker. Booker died at the hands of sheriff’s deputies at the city jail, but we were told in numerous reports that the officers used proper procedures and protocol. The question was asked, “How could that be if Marvin was murdered?” City officials, including Mayor Hancock, didn’t answer.

Now we learn that a man was brutalized in a Denver courtroom and, as in the Booker case, no criminal charges were filed against the offending deputy. Regardless of what we can see with our own eyes on the videotape, the implication is that no significant violations occurred — nothing that would warrant criminal charges or stiffer internal punishment. Remember, as Hancock and his staff told us Monday, the 30-day suspension was sufficient.

We called Monday’s meeting looking for solutions to misconduct in the sheriff’s department. What we heard instead was a lot of talk about the city’s lengthy disciplinary “matrix” and an offer to have it explained to us. The underlying message, as I saw it, was this: “If you only understood the matrix, you would have a better understanding of why black inmates are abused by officers who have no regard for human life or punitive repercussions around their actions.” There was little or no discussion about changing the matrix to account for human rights violations in the city.

Personally, I don’t need a primer about the “matrix.” I understand it all to well! The matrix protects deputies, but puts the public in a very vulnerable position, especially those who find themselves in the custody of city safety officials. Denver, though a city, has become a “police state.” We have no one — and I repeat — no one “policing” the police. Denver’s disciplinary policies are weak, holding little accountability for officers who break the rules. The one safety net built into the system should be the office of the independent monitor, which was set up to watchdog city safety officials. But in practice, that office shows little true independence, but rather mirrors the administration’s lack of commitment to ending misconduct.

Police brutality may not touch us all. The majority of us will never see the inside of the Denver Justice Center. But that shouldn’t stop any of us from caring about those who will, and are, incarcerated in this “state-of-the-art” facility. Citizens in Denver ought to be outraged by the uncontrolled and unjust behavior of some officers who are sworn to serve and protect our city. Denverites ought to know about the lack of accountability are from an administration that was elected and hired to pay more attention.