Denver Deputy Thomas Ford won't be prosecuted for cold-cocking an inmate in an attack caught on video, but he'll have to fight for his job if he wants to keep it. He's been fired by Denver Manager of Safety Stephanie O'Malley along with another embattled law enforcer: Deputy Edward Keller, who was at the center of a complaint brought by another inmate that wound up costing the city $3.25 million. Details, photos, videos and termination letters below.
Jamal Hunter in a photo shared in his lawsuit.
The Manager of Safety's office has released termination letters for both Keller and Ford. We've included them in their entirety below, but excerpts from each document feature harsh criticism of their actions.
First, Keller, who was named in a 2012 lawsuit filed by inmate Jamal Hunter. The complaint goes beyond a single incident: For example, Hunter blames a number of law enforcers for not adequately protecting him from fellow inmates, who wound up scalding his genitals with boiling water while he was in custody circa 2011.
What happened after that? Here's a segment from a roundup post we published in July:
Despite the attack, Hunter declined to press charges against the inmates, fearing that if he did so, his life would be in danger. Instead, he asked again that he be housed with prisoners jailed for lower-level offenses like his own. But on July 31, he filed a grievance in which he claimed, "I have been made an official enemy of the Denver Sheriff Department" and accused one deputy in particular, Edward Keller, of shaking him down.
The next day, Deputy Keller allegedly responded to a complaint from Hunter by asking, "What would you like me to do? Kiss your ass?" After another verbal exchange or two, the suit claims the deputy grabbed Hunter by the back of his neck, twisted his arm behind his back, forced him into his cell, slammed him down onto the bunk and strangled him.
Keller denied any wrongdoing, but the termination letter refutes his version of events in the following section:
Another surveillance photo shows Deputy Keller with Hunter.
Video surveillance footage demonstrates that, after leading inmate Hunter to his cell and pushing inmate Hunter inside, Deputy Keller had achieved his objective of placing inmate Hunter inside of his cell. Statements from multiple sources indicate Hunter then said to Deputy Keller, "Get your fucking hands off me," which immediately precipitated Deputy Keller lunging for inmate Hunter and wrapping his hands around inmate Hunter's throat, choking him. Video surveillance footage also shows that, directly prior to Deputy Keller's lunge toward inmate Hunter, inmate Hunter was not threatening Deputy Keller or moving his hands or arms. Rather, the video shows that inmate Hunters' hands were not even free, as he was holding what appears to be some paper. Furthermore, inmate Hunter's so-called "aggressive" turn was exactly as inmate Hunter characterized it -- a natural response to being shoved from behind -- and a subsequent redistribution of weight. There was no credible or immediate threat to Deputy Keller or others. Therefore, by a preponderance of the evidence, it is more likely than not that Deputy Keller's purpose in lunging for inmate Hunter and grabbing him by the throat was not to secure inmate Hunter in his cell or even as self-defense. Rather, the evidence suggests that Deputy Keller wanted to silence and punish a "mouthy" inmate from whom he had already heard plenty that day.
Eventually, Denver City Attorney Scott Martinez reached an agreement to settle Hunter's lawsuit for $3.25 million -- the largest payout for such a case in Denver history.
Ford was with Keller when the latter choked Hunter, but his troubles are rooted in a July matter during which he slugged inmate Luke Askin.
In a statement to investigators, Ford insisted that he had felt threatened by Askin, who'd been verbally abusing him. Here's part of his statement:
So I went over there. I approached him. My sole intention was to place him in a cell. I still had the water bottle in my hand. I still had the print pads in my hand. I had no intention of getting into a physical altercation with this guy. So, but when he -- he popped up off the bench. I didn't tell him to get up. I didn't give him an order. He popped up off the bench in an aggressive manner. His body was tense, and his face, and then, based off of his previous threats about what he was going to do to me, I felt threatened and I defended myself, and I defended myself with a -- with a strike to the face...a strike that we are taught in the Academy to defend ourselves against threats.
Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey.
This tale proved persuasive to Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, who decided not to prosecute Ford for the attack. But in the Ford termination letter, the deputy's explanation for what happened is discredited:
After examining the totality of the circumstances, [it] is more likely than not, based upon a preponderance of the evidence, that the purpose of Deputy Ford's strike was not to defend himself, but rather, to retaliate against and punish an inmate who had been consistently making threats against and disparaging remarks to Deputy Ford. It is simply incredible that Deputy Ford decided to move a hostile inmate, whom he felt threatened by, one handed, without assistance, and without notifying a supervisor. If Deputy Ford had a legitimate correctional purpose -- that is, to move inmate Askin to an isolation cell -- Deputy Ford's reasonable course of action would have been to seek assistance or, at the very least, to free up his hands in order to physically move the inmate or in case the inmate became aggressive in the process. Instead, the evidence shows that Deputy Ford himself initiated the confrontation by aggressively and purposefully approaching inmate Askin, who was seated, while making statements to the inmate. Inmate Askin then stood up and did not make any further movements. The evidence suggests that inmate Askin stood up as either a response to a perceived threat from Deputy Ford's purposeful and aggressive approach, or to comply with Deputy Ford's instruction that he was going to be transported to an isolation cell. It is also incredible that Deputy Ford felt threatened at this point. If Deputy Ford was truly approaching inmate Askin for a legitimate correctional purpsoe, and he suddenly felt threatened by inmate Askin standing up, it is reasonable to believe that Deputy Ford would have stopped or at least slowed, given verbal commands, or called for assistance. However, Deputy Ford continued his approach and struck Askin in the face with a closed fist, without hesitation, provocation, or justification. Once inmate Askin fell to the ground, Deputy Ford further communicated his purpose by kicking inmate Askin. Therefore...the totality of the circumstances indicates that Deputy Ford had no legitimate correctional purpose for his actions, and instead, acted with the purpose of retaliation and punishment. Deputy Ford used inappropriate force against and committed an assault of inmate Askin.
You can bet this passage will be of interest to Askin, who, the letter points out, "has contacted a lawyer in anticipation of filing a lawsuit against the City and County of Denver and the DSD (Denver Sheriff's Department)."
Kyle Askins's booking photo.
In a statement, Manager of Safety O'Malley makes it clear that the actions of Keller and Ford are unacceptable whether they've been prosecuted or not.
"This administration takes incidents of inappropriate use of force very serious," she maintains. "We expect deputies to abide by departmental use of force policies and to treat inmates with dignity and respect. Any deputy that endangers the well-being of an inmate and dishonors his or her duty to abide by department guiding principles or engages in misconduct substantially contrary to the standards of conduct reasonably expected of one whose sworn duty is to uphold the law, can no longer be a part of the agency. As such, I have ordered the termination of Deputy Ford and Deputy Keller for their respective inappropriate use of force actions and disregard of departmental practices and procedures."
O'Malley's word is unlikely to be the final one. As the Manager of Safety's office release notes, both Ford and Keller have the right to appeal their firing to the Career Service Authority.
Here are the aforementioned termination letters.
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