Denver Jail Video Retention Policy Should Apply to HALO, Body Cams, Lawyer Says

A screen capture of an excessive-force incident against inmate Jamal Hunter that resulted in a $3.25 million settlement. A video and more below.
A screen capture of an excessive-force incident against inmate Jamal Hunter that resulted in a $3.25 million settlement. A video and more below.
File photo

Today, the Denver Department of Public Safety announced a new retention policy for video footage recorded in Denver's jails.

Some video will now be retained indefinitely, while other footage is to be saved for periods than can stretch into years.

Attorney David Lane, who has worked on many cases in which jail-surveillance footage is key, including the death of Christopher Lopez, whose keepers could be heard laughing and joking while he slowly died, cheers the changes. But he'd also like to see them applied to video captured by HALO cameras and body cams being worn by police officers.

Over the years, we've shared many videos of alleged excessive-force incidents at jails in this space.

Here, for instance, is a clip showing a Denver sheriff's deputy knocking out an apparently nonviolent inmate:

By the way, the Denver District Attorney's Office declined to file charges against the deputy seen in the above clip.

Now, video like this will be around for a long time. Here's the breakdown from the Public Safety office:

• Death in a facility — permanent record retained indefinitely

• Prison Rape Elimination Act incidents — permanent record retained indefinitely

• Incidents that involve criminal investigation — until investigatory or criminal proceeding are complete

• All other use of force incidents — 5 Years

• All other incidents that result in an IAB complaint — 5 years

• All other incidents that result in an inmate grievance or complaint — 10 years

To Lane, who also spoke to us for today's post about the Colorado Supreme Court's ruling in the "good time" parole case, the new numbers are laudable.

"That's plenty of time for anybody to do anything that needs to be done," he says.

Now, he'd like to see law-enforcement agencies such as the Denver Police Department institute similar policies when it comes to other footage they've obtained, including video from body cameras, which the DPD has been testing and touting.

He specifically mentions the case of Officer Chad Sinnema, who received a four-day suspension for pinning down a suspect in a planter on the 16th Street Mall by pressing his knee into the man's neck, as seen here:

Obviously, footage of the incident exists. However, of seven officers on the scene, only three of them reportedly switched on their body cameras — and whether they did so in a timely manner is subject to debate, in Lane's view.

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"Why is it those body cams didn't get turned on until after that guy was face down in the planter?" he asks. "There should be an ongoing system in place for storing that footage — there are no storage issues — and cops should be disciplined if they don't activate the cameras."

The same goes for HALO cameras.

"We've been defending some people who were protesting the death of Michael Brown," Lane notes. "They were charged with obstruction and resisting, and it was all captured on a HALO cam — and the cops used the HALO camera footage to charge these guys. But when we tried to get it thirty days later, it had been destroyed.

"I think it's great that the new policy about jail video is in place," he adds. "Now it's time to mandate the same kind of retention for on-street HALO cameras and body cams."

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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