Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comment from Denver’s police chief
Police body camera footage released today shows two Denver officers told The Colorado Independent’s editor, Susan Greene, to “act like a lady” as they handcuffed and detained her in July for attempting to photograph them as they responded to a call on a public sidewalk.
Greene was driving along East Colfax Avenue near the Colorado State Capitol building on the afternoon of July 5 when, by her account, she noticed Denver police surrounding a nearly naked African American man sitting handcuffed on the sidewalk, and stopped to see what was happening. (The man was later taken to the hospital and then released that night, the city has said.)
Greene is an veteran investigative reporter who has written extensively about police brutality and incidents in which African-American men have been killed by law enforcement while in custody.
As Greene detailed in a post the next day, and as the body-cam footage confirms, she approached the scene and was immediately blocked by Officer James Brooks.
He continues to block her as she tries to keep shooting, at one point raising the camera high above Brooks’s head.
Brooks is quickly joined by Officer Adam Paulsen, and the two advise her that she can not take photographs because doing so violates the HIPAA rights of the nearly naked man they have cuffed. HIPAA or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act outlines an individual’s rights to medical privacy.
“There’s also a First Amendment,” Greene responds. “Have you heard of it?”
“That doesn’t supersede HIPAA,” Paulsen says.
Brooks repeats Paulsen’s line, and adds, “Step away, or you’ll be arrested for interference.”
The footage shows Greene then directed her iPhone camera at Brooks’s badge, at which point Brook’s swats the phone away and repeats himself: “Step away, or you’ll be arrested for interference.”
Not a second after his warning, the footage shows, the officers handcuff Greene, who shouts, “Ow!”
“Stand up straight,” Paulsen tells Greene. “Act like a lady.”
“Stand up and act like a lady,” Brooks says.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Greene responds. “Act like a lady?”
“There you go,” Brooks says. “Now you can go to jail.”
After the officers handcuff her, the body-cam footage shows, Greene complains the officers are hurting her as Brooks and Paulsen lead her to the back of a squad car. The officers can be heard telling her that the pain is a result of how she is walking, and that she should “stop resisting.”
“Stop hurting me,” shouts Greene, who also shouts to people on the street witnessing the incident to photograph it.
“You are hurting me,” she says.
“No we’re not,” Paulsen responds. “Walk normal. Stop resisting.”
Greene was held in a police car at the scene for about 12 minutes before being released.
Footage shows that once Greene is released from the police car, she and the officers had a brief exchange in which she asks for their badge numbers and they ask her for her press badge.
No charges for officers
District Attorney Beth McCann last week called Greene to inform her that the D.A.’s office would not be pressing charges against the officers.
Greene detailed the call in a post last week:
(McCann) 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.
Though McCann raised doubts that Greene identified herself as a journalist during the incident, Greene maintains that she did when first approached by Brooks. The body-cam footage provided by police does not include the first moments of Brooks and Greene’s interaction. In addition, the first 30 seconds of each of the body-cam videos provided by the city lack audio. By phone today, Denver Police Department spokesman Jay Casillas said once officers turn on their body cameras to record, the previous 30 seconds of video are captured, but without audio, and that this is why body-cam clips often have silent periods.
Casillas said that an internal investigation into the incident is ongoing, and that he was not immediately aware of any changes the department has made in response to the incident. He said he was also not aware of any timeline for the investigation.
The Independent may take legal action of its own.
“The one thing we’ve seen over and over again is the city drag its feet for months and months and months in doing an internal investigation. Certainly we’re not going to sit on our hands while the city takes its sweet time to investigate an event that took a matter of minutes,”said Mari Newman, a lawyer for Greene and The Independent.
“If we need to file a legal action to hold the city accountable, so be it.”
Newman added that she believes the officers’ assertion that Greene was violating HIPAA is “ridiculous.”
“HIPAA does not apply to an individual on the street. It’s designed to protect private medical information — for example, information that a medical provider or an insurance company might have about a patient. HIPAA does not impose any obligations on a private individual walking around on the street.”
Police Chief Paul Pazen said in an interview the day after the footage was released that he could not comment on the investigation since it is ongoing.
Though the incident happened almost eight weeks ago, he said there is no target date by which the investigation will be wrapped. He also confirmed that both Paulsen and Brooks have remained active on the force since July 5, facing no suspension or forced leave.
The department has taken some follow-up action since the incident, sending two emails to its officers about the First Amendment.
The first email, on July 10, reminded officers to review DPD policies, and the second, on August 16, included a four-page “training bulletin” on the First Amendment, according to a news release from the department.
Pazen declined to answer questions about the treatment of Greene, but he did say he thought his officers treated the nearly naked man with “respect and dignity.” He declined to answer why the man was also handcuffed, citing the ongoing investigation.
“It doesn’t appear that you’re asking any questions with regards to how an individual is treated who’s in crisis,” he said at one point in the interview. “That’s really what we all should be focusing in on.”
“In a situation like this, we should look at the whole picture, not just certain segments that could point one person in a bad light.”
In a letter dated July 10, Pazen wrote that the investigation would produce a “professional, fair, and reasonable” outcome.
The letter was addressed to the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, the Colorado Press Association and the Colorado Broadcasters Association, which wrote a joint letter to Pazen after the incident, alleging that Greene’s constitutional rights were violated.
Greene said today that the footage confirmed her initial impression of the incident.
“It squares exactly like how I remember it,” she said. “The only thing I didn’t realize is that when it was happening, both of the police officers told me to act like a lady, which raises the question: How exactly should a lady act when being wrongly detained on a public sidewalk for exercising First Amendment rights?”