I wrote last month about a July 5 incident in which a Denver police officer handcuffed me and restrained me in a police car for photographing his colleagues handling a man they had restrained, butt naked, on Colfax Avenue.
Officer James Brooks asserted that I was violating the man’s HIPAA rights by shooting pictures on the public sidewalk. Also, while prodding me, handcuffed, toward the police car, Brooks told me to “act like a lady.”
Readers have been asking about the upshot.
In the seven weeks since, Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration hasn’t handed over body cam footage of the incident, as The Independent has requested. We, as well as the Colorado Press Association, the Colorado Association of Broadcasters and the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition have asked the administration what, if anything, the mayor will do to keep officers from stopping journalists or any member of the public from taking photographs or otherwise engaging in free speech liberties in the city. We’ve had no answer.
Hancock did order an internal affairs investigation of the incident. And earlier this month, I was questioned for 90 minutes as part of that inquiry. By that point, the internal affairs officer questioning me said his office had interviewed about 20 people regarding the incident. Brooks, incidentally, wasn’t one of them. It felt during his questioning that I rather than Brooks was being investigated.
Police asked if I wanted to press charges against Brooks. I declined for two reasons. One was that in two decades covering Denver, I’ve never seen authorities throw the book at any officer who hurt — or even killed — someone with unnecessary force. I knew the chances were nil of them doing so in this case. The other reason was that I was fully aware that if police and prosecutors deemed Brooks’ behavior illegal, it was within their own power to charge him.
Denver District Attorney Beth McCann gave me the courtesy of a phone call today to say her office won’t be prosecuting Brooks. She said a charge of false imprisonment wasn’t an option because there’s an exemption for cops. And she said her office likely would have a tough time convincing a jury that Brooks assaulted me.
I asked McCann about her take on the incident beyond the question of criminality. “I don’t know that he knew you were a journalist, for one thing,” she said. “But people are entitled to take pictures as long as people are not” getting in the way of police. She added that Brooks’ “act like a lady” comment “was a little unnecessary.” And she said we’ll likely be hearing something from Hancock’s administration now that she has made her decision not to prosecute.
We at The Independent and our colleagues at newspapers and TV stations statewide look forward to answers from the mayor. As I wrote in a column last week, our newsroom is poised to take whatever action necessary to compel the city to keep its police from restraining journalists or anyone else exercising their First Amendment rights in Denver.
Photo of Denver officer James Brooks, center, by Susan Greene