The firings of Denver police officers for excessive force are seldom simple or easy.
Consider the case of officers Ricky Nixon and Kevin Devine, who were dismissed over an excessive force claim at the Denver Diner in 2009, only to be reinstated in 2012, then fired again — a decision that prompted a lawsuit from Nixon and an angry resignation letter from Devine.
No telling at this point whether the reported sacking of Officer James Medina for apparently causing a female inmate at Denver jail to pass out by pressing his knee to her neck — actions caught on video accessible below — will follow a similar trajectory.
However, Medina is appealing his dismissal, and an attorney who represents him not only argues that his actions were legal, but that he could have actually used more force without running afoul of the law.
The scoop comes from CBS4, which notes that Medina is a sixteen-year veteran of the Denver Police Department.
The case for which he'd gotten the most attention prior to this one took place in 2006. He was among three officers who fired shots in the death of Roberto Gonzales, who'd been armed with a replica weapon.
Here's how writer Jared Jacang Maher described what happened for a 2008 slideshow looking at notable police shootings:
Roberto Gonzales, May 6, 2006: In 2006, during the unofficial Cinco De Mayo procession on Federal Boulevard, officers spotted a stolen Jeep Cherokee. Several police cars began to pursue the vehicle, which had turned eastbound on West 10th Avenue at a high rate of speed toward the Sun Valley Neighborhood. The Jeep stopped at Clay Way and was quickly surrounded by law enforcement vehicles. One of the Jeep's three occupants, later identifed as 34-year-old Roberto Gonzales, jumped out and walked toward an acquaintance on the street. Gonzales attempted to get the acquaintance to take possession of a handgun he was holding in his left hand. But the aquaintace refused as police fanned out around Gonzales with their weapons drawn. Officers repeatedly ordered Gonzales to drop the weapon. Gonzales instead moved toward Sergeant Rick Stern and was shot numerous times by three officers, and died. The gun was later determined to be a very real-looking replica.
No charges were filed against Medina and the other officers in the case. We've included the officer-involved-shooting decision letter penned by Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey at the bottom of this post.
As for the latest matter, it took place in July 2014, with video obtained by CBS4 capturing an altercation between Medina and Seryina Trujillo.
According to the station, Trujillo was busted for trying to interfere with the arrest of her boyfriend.
As he was being taken into custody, she's said to have spit on one officer and kicked Medina in the face.
In the footage, on view below, Medina orders Trujillo to remove her belt, and she refuses to comply.
What follows is a physical altercation during which Medina repeatedly tells Trujillo not to bite him. He's said to have sustained bites and scratches due to her resistance.
He eventually gains control by pinning Trujillo to a bench in the holding cell, then pressing his knee against her neck.
Trujillo appears to pass out as a result, sliding to the floor of the cell before regaining consciousness a few seconds later.
Denver Police Commander Matt Murray tells the station Medina's actions were unacceptable on many levels and fly in the face of efforts to reform the culture in the department.
The letter announcing his firing elaborates on this point. It reads in part:
“Officer Medina used extremely poor judgment when he made the unreasonable decision to forcibly remove Ms. Trujillos’ belt and shoes without seeking the assistance of other officers, and this bad decision escalated into the inappropriate use of force when Officer Medina engaged Ms. Trujillo in a physical confrontation and struggle that placed her at great risk of serious bodily injury or death.”
Contradicting this view is attorney Donald Sisson, who represents Medina.
“He used less force than he was authorized to use," Sisson maintains. "I think he did everything by the book.
"In this case the agency, I think, sort of had a knee-jerk reaction and Monday morning quarterback and they don’t want officers to use force anymore; and unfortunately they have no choice but to use force," Sisson adds.
We'll leave it to you to decide if Sisson's use of the phrase "knee-jerk reaction" was particularly awkward given what Medina is seen doing in the video.
Medina was fired last Wednesday and appealed two days later, no doubt launching a lengthy process to determine when or if his termination will become final.
Here's the CBS4 report, followed by the decision letter in the 2006 shooting.