It can be telling how some folks define the word “community.”
The bubble in which Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration operates became all too apparent at a forum Tuesday when a member of the public wanted to know if the city has put anyone from the community on its team to implement hundreds of much-needed reforms to its woefully dysfunctional sheriff’s department.
A recent review of the agency found a serious lack of leadership and training, and a pattern of inaction and evasion when it comes to its staff’s not-so-little excessive-force problem.
The review was ordered as part of a $3.25 million settlement with Jamal Hunter, who was attacked in the city jail at the behest — and blessing — of sheriff’s deputies.
Safety Manager Stephanie O’Malley paused at the question. She swallowed hard. And then she said, somewhat petulantly, that she had already answered when, a few minutes earlier, she listed the members of the implementation team.
They are Elias Diggins, the interim sheriff Hancock promised he’d replace a year ago; Scott Martinez, the city attorney who has defended Denver against civil rights lawsuits stemming from cases of sheriff’s deputies beating inmates; O’Malley herself, who’s a member of Hancock’s cabinet; Hancock’s budget director Brendan Hanlon; Shawn Smith, a staffer with Hancock’s process-improvement team; Mike Jackson, president of the sheriff’s deputies union; Councilman Paul Lopez, Hancock’s longtime ally with whom he served on the city council; and Nick Mitchell, Hancock’s independent safety monitor whose so-called independence from the administration he works for long has been in question.
In other words, the team of insiders responsible for turning around the wayward and violent sheriff’s department is the same group of insiders under whom the department has been operating so waywardly and violently for years.
O’Malley then tried addressing the question more directly. Are there any community members on the implementation team? Sure, she said, citing Councilman Lopez and Safety Monitor Mitchell as members of the community. Neither, for the record, has been particularly outspoken about excessive force in the department, including the death of street preacher Marvin Booker at the hands of five sheriff’s staffers – for which the city was forced to pay $6 million in a federal jury award.
You read that right, folks. Of all the 663,862 members of Denver’s community, the administration sees a top mayoral appointee and a longtime councilman-slash-buddy of Hancock (whose district relies heavily on projects the mayor chooses to fund) as representative of the general public.
Eyes rolled Tuesday in the meeting room of northeast Denver’s Hope Center. Real, live members of the community cleared their throats or chortled in disbelief.
“Seriously?” blurted out one longtime watchdog.
“Members of the public?” grumbled another. “My ass.”
Power to the people.
Photo credit: Photo credit: coreycam, Creative Commons, Flickr.