A Denver Police Department internal investigation released today found two officers violated city policy when they handcuffed and detained Colorado Independent Editor Susan Greene last summer. Both face fines worth two days of pay.
Greene’s action — recording on-duty officers in public with her phone camera — “does not, in itself, provide grounds for detention or arrest,” a department rule states. Officers are not allowed to “threaten or intimidate individuals who are recording police activities, nor will they discourage or interfere with the recording of police activities.” The seven-month internal investigation determined that Officers James Brooks and Adam Paulsen violated this rule, according to reports the city provided today on each officer’s conduct.
Additionally, the reports state in footnotes that Brooks turned on his body camera belatedly, failing to record his behavior when approaching Greene, and that the officers were both mistaken in telling her she was violating HIPAA — a federal law outlining an individual’s rights to privacy in medical records — when recording their handling of a vulnerable man on a Colfax Avenue sidewalk.
“I’m encouraged to see the police department is taking disciplinary measures against these officers,” Greene said. “I am also perplexed that Officer Brooks’ body camera was not turned on from the moment he approached me. Had it been, it would have shown the level of aggression with which he came at me.”
The veteran investigative reporter has written extensively about police brutality in Colorado and incidents in which law enforcement officers have killed African-American men they’ve arrested or jailed.
“I wasn’t counting on there being discipline from a department that has a record of barely disciplining officers who kill people in their custody,” she added.
Greene was driving on East Colfax Avenue near Grant Street on the afternoon of July 5, 2018 when she saw Denver police surrounding a nearly naked African-American man they had sitting handcuffed on the sidewalk. She stopped to see what was happening and began photographing the scene.
Officers Paulsen and Brooks told Greene she was violating the man’s HIPAA rights and ordered her to stop taking photos. When she did not, and when she directed her camera at Brooks’s police badge, he took Greene’s phone and both officers handcuffed her.
“Stand up straight,” Paulsen told her as she was being cuffed. “Act like a lady.”
“Stand up and act like a lady,” Brooks repeated.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Greene responded. “‘Act like a lady?’”
“There you go,” Brooks told her. “Now you can go to jail.”
Neither of the two internal affairs reports nor a personal letter from Chief Paul Pazen to Greene address the officers’ “act like a lady” comments, which Greene called a “glaring hole in this investigation, and something the Denver Police Department needs to grapple with.”
She was held in a Denver squad car for about 12 minutes during which time, the internal investigation reports say, the officers called a supervisor to get permission to arrest her for interference. The supervisor said no and ordered the officers to release her. Brooks and Paulsen have both taken responsibility for their actions, the reports said.
Soon after the incident, Chief Pazen told The Independent that “what we all should be focusing on” is the fact that his officers treated the naked man with “respect and dignity.”
He declined then to answer questions about the way they treated Greene, and did so again when approached Monday at the Capitol.
“I am not familiar with where we are exactly in the case,” Pazen told this reporter, despite the fact that a letter with his name on it was sent earlier in the day to Greene. At that point, Pazen’s co-worker John White, legislative liaison for the department, asked to speak with Pazen privately and the two stepped aside for about 30 seconds. When they returned, Pazen said he could share no other information.
“I’m willing to talk about issues,” he added before ending the interview.
The letter to Greene purportedly written by Pazen states that the review of Brooks and Paulsen “determined there was a preponderance of evidence to show a violation of Denver Police Department policy had occurred” and that “(a)ppropriate disciplinary action will be taken.”
That action, according to the internal investigation reports, amounts to fines worth 16 hours of work for each officer.
The department also “will continue to address First Amendment issues by developing additional scenario-based First Amendment training,” a DPD press release states.
The reports released today state that both officers said they were concerned for the well-being of the naked man and wanted to preserve his dignity. The man — whom Brooks told investigators he’s known “for 10 years” — had been observed behaving erratically, and later told police he had used “spice” and methamphetamine. (He was taken to a hospital and released the night of July 5, the city said.)
“The officers ordered the patient to lie face down on the ground and handcuffed him, for his safety,” the reports state.
But Greene questions if the officers were trying to protect the man or themselves. “The question still remains: If the officers were so concerned about the man’s safety, why did they leave him so long handcuffed and butt naked on the sidewalk?” she said. “And why did they decide to handcuff me at the point when I was taking pictures of their badges?”
Attorneys Mari Newman and Andrew McNulty of the Denver firm Killmer, Lane & Newman are, on behalf of Greene and The Independent, in negotiations with the city, but, Newman said, “are prepared to file a civil suit if necessary.”