Update: Julian Archuleta resigned as a Denver police officer after pleading guilty to stealing money from the scene of a car crash, a crime documented by his own body camera. But his punishment is a relative wrist-slap.
Last October, as noted in our previous coverage, on view below, Archuleta responded to a call about unknown suspects who'd allegedly fired shots at officers outside a convenience store. What followed was a short car chase prior to the crash of the suspects' vehicle near the intersection of West 50th Avenue and North Washington Street. Afterward, video from Archuleta's body camera showed him discovering a pile of money with a $100 bill on top. He took the C-note and others like it while replacing them with a $1 bill.
In the end, Archuleta pleaded guilty to a pair of misdemeanors: second-degree theft and first-degree official misconduct. As punishment for these violations of the public trust, which also resulted in the Denver District Attorney's Office deciding not to charge the suspects in the shooting and crash, he was ordered to serve eighteen months of probation. In other words, no jail time.
According to Denise Maes, public-policy director for the ACLU of Colorado, Archuleta's case shows how body cameras can also be used as a police-accountability tool — a concept previously rejected by a Denver Police Department spokesman. Continue for that angle and more details about the act that ended Archuleta's career as a DPD officer.
Original post, 7:11 a.m. January 16: The Denver Police Department's use of body cameras has evolved over time.
At first, the DPD said that off-duty officers wouldn't wear the devices before caving on the issue. And the agency resisted requiring sergeants to wear body cams prior to acquiescing on that matter, too.
But the department has been consistent in maintaining that body cameras aren't being deployed in order to hold officers accountable for their actions on the job. As Deputy Chief Matt Murray told a law enforcement panel this past January, “A body-worn camera is an evidence-collecting program. It’s not a police-accountability program. “
Denise Maes, public-policy director for the ACLU of Colorado, begs to differ — and to support her view, she points to the charging of Officer Julian Archuleta, who was busted last year for allegedly stealing $1,200 from the scene of a car crash after images of pilfering were captured by his own body camera.
"The Denver Police Department has put an emphasis on body cameras resolving complaints against police officers, as opposed to accountability for potential wrongdoing on the part of a police officer," Maes says. "And in this case, it did keep a police officer accountable."
At around 3 a.m. on October 7, according to an arrest affidavit on view below, Archuleta responded to the area of West 50th Avenue and North Washington Street. He was tasked with assisting officers who'd called dispatch after unknown suspects had allegedly fired shots in their direction while they were at a 7-Eleven.
The short pursuit that followed came to an end when the suspect's vehicle rolled. The driver fled the scene on foot, leaving behind a passenger who was unconscious inside the ride.
Archuleta's body camera operated for more than 24 minutes as he worked the scene, and it captured the moment when he discovered a stack of cash topped with a $100 bill.
In the video generated by the camera, the police report maintains, Archuleta can be seen removing the Benjamin and folding other currency inside it, leaving a $1 bill atop the remaining pile.
This sequence stuck in the mind of a detective after he counted the money and came up with a total of just $118.
After being confronted about the possible discrepancy, the affidavit continues, Archuleta promised to check into it, and subsequently claimed that $1,200 had fallen out of his evidence bag and into his car.
This assertion didn't prevent Archuleta from being arrested — and the Denver District Attorney's Office subsequently accused him of tampering with physical evidence, theft and a pair of first-degree official misconduct counts.
This incident resonates with Maes, who served as a member of a committee formed after the state legislature passed a 2015 bill permitting the State of Colorado to access grant funds in order to provide body cameras to municipal police departments.
"The committee was intended to develop what body-camera rules should look like in those departments that would access the funding," Maes says. "Denver wouldn't necessarily have to comply with those guidelines, since it acquired its body-camera funding by a different avenue."
Nevertheless, Maes continues, "what's particularly relevant in this case is that nationwide, the ACLU has always advocated that body cameras are more than the be-all and end-all for evidence of what really happens in interactions between the police and citizens. They're also intended to keep police departments accountable, and I think Denver omits that."
In her view, "the Denver Police Department talks about how body cameras will resolve complaints against police officers, as opposed to providing accountability for potential wrongdoing on the part of the police officer. So I think there's a distinction in the form of emphasis, if nothing else."
The ACLU argues that "when people know they're on camera, they act better," Maes allows. "That's true of citizens and police. There's hope that police officers will act responsibly and do the right thing in interactions with citizens when they know that interaction is going to be on camera — although obviously, this officer didn't do so."
Look below to see Archuleta's booking photo and the aforementioned arrest affidavit.
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Denver District Attorney's Office