Littwin: Thanks to body-cams we can now see the DPD story of cops, lies and videotape

Screen shot from Denver Police Department body cam July 5, 2018

The clash between Indy editor Susan Greene and the Denver Police Department has predictably turned into a rout.

The cops could bully, intimidate, handcuff, insult, detain/arrest Greene for simply doing her job, but, thanks to the belatedly released police body-cam videos, Officers James Brooks and Adam Paulsen are the ones who have been humiliated. They’ve made themselves and the DPD a national laughingstock while displaying what can only be called a shocking ignorance of the laws they are paid to enforce.

I mean, even for those of us who don’t exactly expect to see Clarence Darrow walking the beat, we would never suppose we’d hear a cop say HIPAA rules “supersede the First Amendment,” which would have come as a surprise to James Madison and the other founders who wrote the Bill of Rights without once mentioning how to deal with medical records.

And worse still — at least for the cops— the DPD seems to have no understanding of the concept of damage control, which now goes all the way to top in the person of recently appointed police chief, Paul Pazen, who just couldn’t bring himself to say the obvious — that he’s got morons on his team.

When asked about the videos by Indy reporter Alex Burness, Pazen predictably said he couldn’t comment because of the ongoing (and if we know the DPD, never-ending) investigation into the facts of the case. 

Among the things he couldn’t comment about, though they can be seen clearly on the videos, were the cops’ total disregard for a reporter’s First Amendment rights or the cops’ complete misunderstanding and absurd misuse of HIPAA law or in telling Greene to “act like a lady” when they were slapping cuffs on her or how they told her to stop resisting arrest (she clearly wasn’t) when she told the cops they were hurting her.

Pazen did say two refresher memos were sent to officers about the First Amendment, which, by the way, definitely allows reporters, and anyone else for that matter, to photograph anything on a public sidewalk. He didn’t mention sending a HIPAA memo, although it’s fair to guess that no Denver cop had ever arrested anyone for a HIPAA violation — which involves privacy of medical records — before the comedy team of Brooks and Paulsen showed up on camera.

Not being willing to answer the questions about Greene, Pazen changed the subject, saying the story everyone in the media is missing is about the cops’ assistance for the near-naked man in distress on the sidewalk.

So, reporter Burness, in fairness, asked about the man. Why, if this was a distress call, was the man in handcuffs?

Pazen said it was part of the investigation, so he couldn’t answer.

Burness asked who, in fact, eventually covered the naked man — the cops or a bystander?

Pazen sidestepped in answering that question.

You may see a trend here — Pazen refusing to answer questions about the very story he insists we’re giving insufficient coverage.

So, if he thinks the coverage is imbalanced…

Pazen said he never said the coverage was imbalanced, although he did just say that, but added: “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. … It’s the whole totality of the circumstances we’re talking about. Substance abuse, mental health. We should not lose sight of that throughout this process.”

The irony here is that the reason Greene pulled off the street, searched for a parking place, walked back to the scene, starting shooting photos was because there was a naked man surrounded by cops. Greene specializes in social justice and criminal justice issues. She was a Pulitzer finalist for her work on these issues. The ACLU just gave her a major award for her coverage of these issues.

Greene started taking photos because she wanted to document the status of the near-naked man in cuffs. And the cops, meanwhile, left their job caring for the near-naked man in distress to hassle Greene, blocking her from taking pictures with her phone and eventually slapping the phone away.

And you might want to note this: The cops, who claim they were protecting the man’s privacy but couldn’t be bothered to, say, cover him with a jacket or something, didn’t arrest Greene until she started taking photos of one of the cop’s police badges.

So, whose privacy were they protecting?

Whose demands for Greene to act like a lady and to stop resisting arrest were part of an improper arrest, based on no law whatsoever? By the way, it’s apparently legal for cops to be ignorant of the law and arrest someone because of that ignorance.

Why did they let Greene go after detaining her for about 10 minutes in a squad car even though they told her she was headed for jail? Here’s a guess: Someone answering the phone at the station said, What the hell are you guys doing?

Which cops  — you can guess — have not yet been reprimanded in any way and (here’s another guess) never will be?

Look at the videos. It’s all pretty clear. Cops have been saying that Greene didn’t identify herself as a reporter. Coincidentally, the audio on the video can’t be heard when they approached her. As a reporter who has been in this situation countless times, I can promise she identified herself. Why wouldn’t she?

For those benighted posters who somehow think women are titillated by the site of a distressed, handcuffed, mostly naked man, they should know Greene is a veteran reporter who has uncovered cases of officers mistreating and even killing black men with mental issues when they were taken into custody. Most of those officers received the lightest of punishment even as the city paid out millions of dollars in settlements.

I don’t know if Greene or the Indy will sue the city. I guarantee she has a case. What I hope is that the cops heard what she said at a press conference with her and the Indy’s lawyers Wednesday.  “It’s our job to not take no for an answer when ‘no’ is illegal,” she said. “…I don’t think we should stop taking photos when we are told unlawfully to do so.”

I wonder if Police Chief Pazen has any comment on that.


  1. I read this article and felt very sad that Ms Greene was treated so terrible. I blame must, if not all, that shabby treatment on bad training. the notion that a memo to all officers is a good example of poor training in that a memo is no training at all. Whether or not the rank and file pf that department read the memo cannot be verified. Oh well.

    As a retired Army CID Special Agent I would like to point out one issue that always annoys me. Those guys were Police Officers and not cops. How about using the term police officers simply because it is the proper term and might gain you an ear or two from the blue line.


  2. Actually, in many cases, HIPAA rules do indeed supersede the first amendment. A medical or emergency provider is legally prohibited from exercising freedom of speech when it comes to the medical condition of someone under their care.

    I can see that the cops, in perhaps an abundance of caution, were wary about allowing a clearly mentally ill or chemically imbalanced naked man to be photographed. Has the man spoken about the violation of privacy he now feels by virtue of this media circus? Certainly, the officers handled the reporter’s questions poorly, but I question the confrontational approach of this reporter to this situation, particularly in light of how humanely the officers handled it from the beginning. But cops are of course expected to de-escalate, even in the face of such overt and uncalled-for hostility. Sure, she rattled them, got their defenses up, and they responded poorly. Likely they will end up reprimanded or, perhaps, you all will sue them.

    But all in all the net result is making the situation far worse for this poor gentleman. Is that really something to be held up as commendable? I’d like to see a reconciliation whereby this reporter rides along with a cop for a day – or better yet, with one of the cop -social worker teams that now help deal with sad situations like this one across the city. Not every situation – and I hazard, the vast minority – are situations where cops are overstepping their authority. They have become defacto social workers – first responders in situations that are not clear cut matters of criminal behavior. I can easily see how they thought they were protecting the medical privacy of this clearly ailing man.

  3. David Clark, thanks for your thoughtful note. But in my years of covering police officers/cops, cops are happy to be called cops. If some police officer/cop feels differently, let me know.

  4. Hey David Clark, I’m sure you mean well, but how about not patronizing a CITIZEN by telling her to “act like a lady”?! Oh yeah…and stomping on her rights as a ‘lady’ journalist…

  5. Such lovely professional journalism! It’s a lie to say the cops lied – intended to deceive – without evidence. An inaccurate statement about law is not proof of deception. This sloppy handling of words would make Littwin a great addition to WaPo’s lie counter team. This is hit piece journalism.

    Sadly, the left wing slant at the Denver comPost lives here as well.

    Perhaps for your next investigative expose, you can explore Greene’s obvious racial and anti-police biases that clearly gives her actions and drove her into filming a sick naked man and copping a hostile attitude with the officers from the get-go, but knowing the ideological circle jerk so much mainstream media is in, I won’t hold my breath.

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