Michael DeHerrera beating: Activist says ruling blocking cops' reinstatement only partial victory
Since the April 2009 on-camera beating of Michael DeHerrera, Denver Police Officer Devin Sparks and Corporal Randy Murr, who can be seen in a video below attacking DeHerrera while he used his cell phone, have been suspended, fired and un-fired. Now, a new ruling nixes their reinstatement. But while that's good news for one activist who's been fighting on DeHerrera's behalf, he stresses that the development doesn't constitute a happy ending.
"All in all, I think it's definitely a positive thing," says Mu Son Chi, racial justice and civil rights program director for the Colorado Progressive Coalition. "But it's just a partial victory. We're sitting here three years later, and this case is still being ruled on."
Moreover, there'll be at least one more hearing on the subject.
As we've reported, the investigation into the attack on DeHerrera, which was captured by HALO cameras, took a long time to get going. Finally, in August 2010, Denver Manager of Safety Ron Perea determined that Sparks and Murr should be suspended for three days without pay but not fired -- a conclusion so controversial that Perea subsequently resigned. Cut to March 2011, when then-Manager of Safety Charley Garcia fired Sparks and Murr. However, they appealed the decision, and a hearing panel sided with them. Why? Because the cops had already accepted Perea's punishment (by not appealing the decision during a prescribed period), Garcia's move to sack them for the same offense represented the equivalent of double jeopardy.
DeHerrera was surprised and confused by this turn of events, as he told us last September. "I knew it would be a long process," he conceded, "but everything seemed so clear. The video speaks for itself, so we thought everything was laid out for things to happen smoothly and efficiently. But we've gone through two internal affairs investigations and so many appeals. And when things go on like this, some people give up and go away. They don't want to deal with it anymore. They want to get back to their lives; they lose hope and don't see any chance for a positive outcome."
And now, the latest twist: Yesterday, the Civil Service Commission, which created a firestorm in January by reinstating two cops in a 2009 Denver Diner brutality incident, reversed the panel's edict about Sparks and Murr in what's being interpreted as a nod to the Manager of Safety's authority. But this determination doesn't mean the two cops are fired for good. They have the right to appeal to the same hearing panel that blocked their sacking in the first place.
No wonder Mu Son Chi isn't jumping for joy.
Page down to continue reading about the DeHerrera ruling and to see a video of the attack. "There have been too many missteps," he says about the case. "We need these officers off the street once and for all, and we need institutional change for this to be avoided in the future."
Michael DeHerrera during an appearance on Good Morning America.
With that in mind, the Colorado Progressive Coalition is gathering signatures on a petition calling for a federal investigation into excessive force complaints. "We are collecting physical signatures -- we've collected over 1,000 so far," he says. "And every day, people are signing up on our online petition or coming into our office and calling to figure out how they can get involved in collecting more signatures."
This response has been the result of hard work, he believes.
"I think what's happened here over the course of three years is that our community is coming together and saying, 'Enough is enough,'" he maintains. "We don't want something like what happened to Michael to ever happen again. But if it does, we're building our membership to a point where it shouldn't take three years for a victory like this one. And we'll keep working until officers are no longer brutalizing people in our community."
Here's the video of DeHerrera's beating, courtesy of the Denver Post.
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Michael DeHerrera talks about reinstatement of cops who beat him (VIDEO)."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.