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Denver Sheriff Department Draft Reforms Release Tries to Stem Tide of Negative PR

Deputy Thomas Ford's punch out of an inmate is just one of several recent incidents reflecting poorly on the Denver Sheriff's Office. Video, photos and more below.
Deputy Thomas Ford's punch out of an inmate is just one of several recent incidents reflecting poorly on the Denver Sheriff's Office. Video, photos and more below.

As we've reported, the Denver Sheriff Department has received negative attention aplenty in recent months owing to numerous excessive-force complaints, a huge lawsuit payout and more; see a previous post outlining five of the incidents below.

The City of Denver is eager to be seen as tackling the issues with the DSD. Example: The highly unusual release of reform recommendations while they're either still in draft form or currently incomplete.

See also: Video: See Thomas Ford, suspended deputy, knock out non-violent inmate

After Denver Sheriff Gary Wilson stepped down, news broke that his interim replacement, Elias Diggins, had a criminal record.
After Denver Sheriff Gary Wilson stepped down, news broke that his interim replacement, Elias Diggins, had a criminal record.

The document released by the Department of Public Safety, shared here in its entirety, lists four separate groups assigned to consider ways to fix the DSD: the policy-and-procedure task force, the training task force, the staff-well-being task force and the discipline task force.

The assorted groups include past and present city officials, members of the faith community such as Reverend Del Phillips of the House Worship Center and assorted stakeholders, including representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Colorado Progressive Coalition and other organizations that have been critical of the sheriff's department in the past.

The task forces haven't been around for long, but their schedules suggest that they've been busy: Staff well-being has already met sixteen times, with both discipline and training getting together fifteen times, and policy and procedure gathering thirteen times.

Such sessions have resulted in forty proposed recommendations thus far. They're all listed in the aforementioned document, but here are some highlights:

Reverend Del Phillips.
Reverend Del Phillips.

Policy and procedures:

• Make changes to the taser policy.

• Makes changes to the inmate handbook.

• Send the Office of the Independent Monitor automated

Training:

• Include special training curriculum for leadership.

• Include remedial training in discipline, where appropriate.

• Allow deputies to access their own training records.

Staff well-being:

• Change shifts from 12 hours to 10 hours.

• Change employee break structure to first break 45 minutes and second break 15 minutes.

• Create a subcommittee to study the addition of a chaplaincy program to assist deputies with their wellbeing efforts.

What about the discipline task force? Its recommendations are arguably the most anticipated, but the draft says they're "not yet finalized -- work is ongoing."

That's true of the other recommendations, too. A Department of Public Safety release notes that "the draft recommendations will be refined before a final report is submitted to Safety Department Executive Director Stephanie Y. O'Malley, as well as a third-party oversight firm, by the end of September."

With that in mind, the release, which is peppered with complimentary statements from the likes of Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training's Pete Dunbar, Metro State criminal justice prof Dr. Joe Sandoval and Al LaCabe, once Denver's Manager of Safety, appears to be an effort to let the public know Mayor Michael Hancock and other Denver officials aren't sitting on its hands regarding the DSD. Instead, they're doing something -- but they're not finished yet.

Here's the draft-recommendations document, followed by previous coverage.

Denver Sheriff Department Task Force Draft Recommendations

Continue to see a list of five incidents that led to Denver Sheriff Gary Wilson's resignation, including photos and videos.

Posted 6 a.m. July 22: As we've documented in a series of blog posts over the past year or so, the Denver Sheriff's Department has been beset by scandals -- so many that yesterday, Mayor Michael Hancock accepted Sheriff Gary Wilson's resignation and appointed Division Chief Elias Diggins to fill the job on an interim basis.

But this attempt to smooth the waters wasn't wholly successful: Last night, news broke that Diggins has a criminal record. Continue for details about that revelation, following a recap of five incidents that helped seal Wilson's fate.

Number 1: The Brad Lovingier video

In a video obtained by the Colorado Independent, Deputy Brad Lovingier can be seen slamming handcuffed inmate Anthony Waller into a wall during a court hearing, seemingly with little or no provocation. Here's the clip:

It took a year for Lovingier to be disciplined.

Number 2: Deputy Matthew Andrews's escape assist

Former Denver deputy Matthew Andrews.
Former Denver deputy Matthew Andrews.

In April 2013, Felix Trujillo became the first person to escape from Denver's new jail -- and he did so with a little help from Deputy Matthew Andrews, who let the inmate wear his hat and coat as he left the building.

Andrews swore he'd only aided in the escape because of threats to his family. But a few weeks later, Trujillo publicly claimed Andrews actually assisted him because he believed the con was rich and would give him a big reward.

This past January, Andrews was sentenced to six months in prison.

Number 3: Michael Than's taxing behavior

Michael Than.
Michael Than.

In April, Than, once the second highest ranking member of the Denver Sheriff's Department, was indicted in Jefferson County. Among the allegations against him: He's said to have stolen 1,288 copies of Turbo Tax software from assorted Target stores in the Denver area and resold them on eBay for more than $60,000.

Number 4: The Jamal Hunter lawsuit

A surveillance image of actions at the heart of Jamal Hunter's lawsuit. The man on the right is Deputy Thomas Ford.
A surveillance image of actions at the heart of Jamal Hunter's lawsuit. The man on the right is Deputy Thomas Ford.

In 2012, former inmate Jamal Hunter filed a lawsuit against the City and County of Denver and individual law enforcers for failing to properly protect him, after he says inmates scalded his genitals with boiling water and two deputies attacked him. Last month, a judge released additional documents in the case that included references to porn, pot, on-duty drunkenness and brutality among deputies at the jail.

Thomas Ford wasn't mentioned by name in Hunter's lawsuit even though he was one of two deputies caught on video roughing him up. But his moniker would soon get headline treatment.

Number 5: The Thomas Ford punch-out

In another Colorado Independent scoop, a video surfaced showing Ford laying out a non-violent inmate with one punch. Here's that clip:

The Manager of Safety's Office responded to this matter with a news release announcing that Ford was under investigation and portraying Wilson as taking strong action to address "the community's concerns as it relates to deputy misconduct." But these efforts weren't enough to save Wilson's job -- not that he's currently unemployed. Although he stepped down as Sheriff, he'll continue to serve as a division chief.

Outgoing Denver sheriff Gary Wilson.
Outgoing Denver sheriff Gary Wilson.

Diggins, meanwhile, will take the helm at least temporarily -- but the odds of him getting the job permanently took a major blow last night. As 7News reports, Diggins was once charged with an attempt to influence a public official, a felony. Diggins told the station the accusation came about following a 1996 car crash, when he lied to a judge about having insurance. In the end, he pleaded guilty to making a false report, a misdemeanor.

This offense doesn't compare to the five happenings that led to Sheriff Wilson's resignation. But neither does it turn the subject away from problems at the Denver Sheriff's Department. Instead, it simply adds another one, undoubtedly fueling critics who believe the agency is either incompetent or out of control.

Look below to read the 7News-obtained report about Diggins's record.

Elias Diggins Arrest Report

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.


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