Greene: “Dirty cop, show me your hands” and other vignettes from Denver’s independent safety monitor

A white paper released today by Denver’s Independent Monitor reminds us why we need that office. The 61-page half-yearly report reveals what most city safety officials won’t about Denver’s Finest.

Things like the incident when a police took a city-owned trailer and sold it on Craigslist.

And the time when an off-duty detective picked up a known prostitute in a patrol car, then lied to his supervisor about it. A month later, when it came out that he had exchanged sex for returning her impounded car, he quit.

In January, an officer jokingly threw a bag of pot retrieved as evidence into a fellow officer’s car. He then un-holstered his gun, pointed it in the direction of his colleague and said, “Dirty cop, show me your hands.” Who says law enforcement doesn’t like a good laugh?

And then there was the night two Denver cops and their wives were drinking at one of the couple’s homes. The women started fighting, leading their husbands to start hauling off on each other, too, until one brandished a weapon and later said he was going to lie to Internal Affairs about the whole mess.

In fairness, misconduct is a statistical rarity in the police force. The cases outlined in the OIM report apply to only about one percent of Denver’s 1,400-something officers.

Still, parts of the document read like a how-to manual on public drunkenness, drunk driving, hit and runs, sexual assault and domestic violence.

One bonehead officer had the bad judgment to take the day off from work, purportedly for medical reasons, attend a sporting event, drive drunk and get into a bad accident. Busted.

It will come as no surprise that Denver’s District Attorney’s office has taken a pass on criminally prosecuting wayward cops, like the one who was arrested in May after a woman alleged that he sexually assaulted her. For readers who’ve followed the revolving door that is the Safety Department’s disciplinary process, it also will come as no shocker to see a long list of new ways cops can screw up and then appeal their disciplinary measures.

One argues that his two-day suspension for pulling a knife on a co-worker in an elevator was heavy-handed.

Another takes umbrage with his 10 days of suspension and fine of two day’s pay for flirting with female civilian Police Department employees, touching one and making her feel uncomfortable, and then tickling the waist of the female supervisor who told him to stop. After all, if The Donald can get away with it, why shouldn’t he?

Another officer is appealing his two 30-day suspensions (and a termination held in abeyance, whatever that means) for pinning an unruly suspect (who kicked and spit at him) by the neck until she seemed to lose consciousness. Apparently, it slipped his mind to seek medical help for her or mention to his superiors that the whole incident happened.

And in the annals of temper tantrums: An off-duty cop drinks a “substantial amount” of alcohol at a downtown bar, becomes irked by a performer (a mime, maybe?) and angrily confronts him by lobbing what the report refers to as “offensive names.” The cop then goes on to allegedly grab the performer by the shirt and continue harassing him until several bystanders intervene. Then the officer starts duking it out with the BYSTANDERS. We’re talking plural here. For all this, the hothead was suspended for 10 days and fined six days’ pay.

Lest anyone accuse me of reading the report in a glass-half-empty kind of way, I point out that some officers were lauded for acts of heroism and bravery. Two saved five kids from a burning building. Two pulled a woman to safety after they feared she’d take her life on an I-225 overpass. And a super sweet officer gave the victim of a bike theft his old mountain bike so she could get around. Love these stories. So much.

The  report also addresses Denver’s Sheriff’s Department, which over the years has made more than its share of headlines for jailing the wrong people, roughing up those in its custody and occasionally killing them. Old habits die hard. According to the report, a few deputies still haul off at lippy or uncooperative city jail inmates by slamming them on the ground or into walls or other immovable objects.

One deputy pepper-sprayed an inmate who posed no apparent threat, the report says. Another left an unsupervised inmate in an elevator for 36 minutes. And yet another pulled the hair of an inmate who was intoxicated, naked and suicidal.

As we’ve seen before, at least one deputy was given preferential treatment when he was taken into his department’s custody on a domestic violence arrest.

And in a particularly maddening case, a deputy was busted for having skipped his rounds during which he was supposed to make sure all inmates were accounted for. The body of a prisoner who had died in his cell apparently went unnoticed. But, the city assures us, the deputy’s failure to conduct inspection “had no apparent bearing” on the death.

Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell is a rare voice of independence in a city whose administration all too often doesn’t return reporters’ phone calls or emails about the skeletons in its Safety Department’s closet. His job is to watchdog law enforcement. And in an era with fewer and fewer city hall reporters, we need all the eyes and ears we can get.

The independence of the Independent Monitor’s office is at stake this election with Denver ballot question 2B. The measure would enshrine the office permanently in the city charter so that mayors’ administrations or city councils couldn’t do away with it.

Support for Question 2B comes from civil rights activists, freedom of information fans and families of the folks that a handful of bad officers have victimized. The police union hasn’t taken a formal stance on the measure, but is effectively against it.

Flickr photo by Brevia Storia del Cinema.