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Denver police brutality scandal: A multimedia timeline

Rosenthal.
Rosenthal.

This week's cover story, "The Watcher," details the role Denver's Independent Monitor Richard Rosenthal has played in the ongoing controversy involving city law enforcement and alleged police brutality. It's a scandal that's made nationwide news and is shaping the mayoral race. How did the hullabaloo come about? Check out a timeline below of the major developments, along with video and photos of some of the controversial incidents in question.

July 2010: Ron Perea, former special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service's Los Angeles division, who'd helped run security during Denver's Democratic National Convention, becomes Denver's Manager of Safety, replacing retiring Safety Manager Al Lacabe.

July 9, 2010: Homeless street preacher Marvin Booker dies in jail in the new Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center.

August 11, 2010: Booker's family calls for video of the jailhouse incident to be released.

August 13, 2010: City pays out $20,000 to settle lawsuit filed by James Watkins, who claimed Denver police tech John Ruddy and Sergeant Randy Penn used excessive force and left him with facial lacerations and other injuries in a April 4, 2009 incident.

August 14, 2010: News breaks that Perea has chosen not to fire officers Devin Sparks and Randy Murr for the beating of Michael DeHerrera, 23, outside a LoDo nightclub on the same night Watkins says he was assaulted by the police, overriding Rosenthal's recommendation. Instead, Perea docked each of the officers three days' pay, even though a video of the altercation, captured by the DPD's High Activity Location Observation (HALO) surveillance system, shows the officers tackling DeHerrera, beating him with a sap and slamming his ankle in a car door after he'd apparently done nothing other than make a call on his cell phone:

August 16, 2010: Independent Monitor Richard Rosenthal and members of DeHerrera's family speak out about Perea's decision on Good Morning America, as the story spreads to CNN, Gawker and other national outlets.   August 17, 2010: Another HALO video surfaces of 32-year-old Mark Ashford being hit by police officers in a March 17, 2010 incident:

August 17, 2010: Mayor John Hickenlooper, then running for governor, announces that he wants the FBI to look into the incident.

August 19, 2010: In a meeting with Perea, Latino and African-American leaders demanded he fire Sparks and Murr or resign, a sentiment echoed by Denver City Councilwoman Judy Montero.

August 20, 2010: Denver Police reopen the internal investigation into the DeHerrera incident, saying "new information has been made available."

August 21, 2010: Perea comes under fire for a second disciplinary decision, one involving a volunteer firefighter claiming that in November 2008, Officer Eric Sellers had put him in a chokehold, wrestled him to the ground, handcuffed him and screamed at him after the firefighter criticized the cop. Perea found that Sellers had lied during an investigation, but because the inquiry had taken so long, he didn't fire him, as the new disciplinary matrix indicated. Instead, Sellers was suspended for 45 days. "It had the potential of undermining all our reforms on force and lying," Rosenthal would later say.

August 23, 2010: Perea re-opens the internal investigation into the Sellers incident, then hands in his resignation, effective August 31. Deputy Manager of Safety Mary Malatesta will takes over until a new Manager can be found.

August 28, 2010: 150 people march in downtown Denver over recent allegations of police and misconduct.   September 15, 2010: In response to City Council inquiries, the City Attorney's office announces that Denver has spent nearly $6.2 million since 2004 to settle lawsuits involving police officers, a number the office says has remained fairly static.

September 19, 2010: Denver police announce that in the previous month, officer-initiated investigations declined by nearly 25 percent from the year before, a drop that some officers attributed to fears about losing their jobs if other media controversies break out.

Abbe Dorn.
Abbe Dorn.

September 23, 2010: Rohit Mukherjee files a lawsuit alleging that he was brutalized in his home on April 10, 2010 by three Denver officers -- one of whom was Abbegayle Dorn, a former American Gladiator candidate.

October 2010: Two police internal affairs officers, Bryan O'Neill and Daren Ciempa, are reassigned after secretly filming internal affairs head John Burbach with a video recorder disguised as a pocket pen, apparently to prove Burbach was biased against his officers.

January 12, 2011: New Denver mayor Bill Vidal indicates at his swearing-in ceremony that police brutality concerns will be one of the top priorities of his administration. Soon after, he promises to resolve all ongoing cases of alleged police misconduct before he leaves office in July.

January 12, 2011: Community College of Denver student Alexander Landau files a lawsuit alleging that he was pulled over for an illegal left turn on January 15, 2009 and beaten him bloody with flashlights and a police radio. One of the officers was Randy Murr, who was also involved in the DeHerrera incident. Landau was eventually taken to Denver Health to be treated for a broken nose, lacerations and closed head injuries -- but not before he demanded somebody take photos of him:

Denver police brutality scandal: A multimedia timeline

  January 17, 2011: CompleteColorado.com releases video that allegedly suggests the officers involved in the DeHerrera incident covered up knowledge of his cell phone:

January 18, 2011: A federal jury considers a police brutality lawsuit filed against Vicki Ferrari, another Denver cop who was once an American Gladiator contestant. The jury finds in Ferrari's favor.

January 29, 2011: A Marvin Booker protest rally draws 200 to 300 to downtown Denver and turns marginally violent prompting the arrival of the Denver Police Department gang unit.

February 4, 2011: A federal judge rejects a claim by Robert Liechty that he was attacked by Denver officers in a March 2008 incident.

March 14, 2011: As one of her last acts before ceding the position, Safety Manager Mary Mary Malatesta fires two police officers for lying about the details of an incident in which they chased a stolen car.

March 25, 2011: New Manager of Safety Charles Garcia fires officers Sparks and Murr for their involvement in the DeHerrera incident, because they were found to have lied during the internal investigation.  

April 7, 2011: Mayor Vidal announces the elimination of the city's Discipline Review Board as a way to speed up police-discipline investigations.

April 11, 2011: Garcia fires two more officers, Ricky Nixon and Kevin Devine, over a July 2009 incident at the Denver Diner in which cops allegedly beat women to the ground and maced one of them. Nixon was one of the three officers named in the Alex Landau beating.

May 2, 2011: The City of Denver settles Landau's lawsuit for $795,000, one of the largest police-brutality payouts in city history. By this point, two of the three officers involved -- Murr and Nixon -- have already been fired for their involvement in other police-misconduct incidents.

May 6, 2011: In his quarterly report, Rosenthal reveals that Sellers, the officer accused of attacking a volunteer firefighter, received a 40-day suspension, a punishment Rosenthal believed was too light.

May 6, 2011: Anti-police-violence protesters rally to demand justice for Marvin Booker:

May 9, 2011: All officers involved in the jailhouse death of Marvin Booker are cleared of any wrongdoing. At the press conference announcing the decision, city officials release videos of the incident and a forty-page report from the investigation, which Rosenthal calls "one of the most comprehensive and thorough that I have seen since I began monitoring activities six and a half years ago."

May 10, 2011: Booker's family members call on federal investigators to look into the jailhouse-death investigation.

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Police misconduct: Denver ranks number one in terms of excessive force complaints."


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