Michael DeHerrera beating: Cop Devin Sparks fired (again), Randy Murr reinstated (again)
As we've reported, Denver cops Devin Sparks and Randy Murr have been suspended, fired and un-fired since the April 2009 on-camera beating of Michael DeHerrera, who was attacked by Sparks while using his cell phone; see the video below. Now, the Civil Service Commission has rendered the latest judgment on the officers' actions: Sparks has again been fired, while Murr, who was also involved in the brutal assault on Alex Landau that same year, has been reinstated.
The investigation into the attack on DeHerrera, which was captured by HALO cameras outside 5 Degrees, a Lodo club, while he was in the company of a friend, Shawn Johnson, 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 in September 2011. "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."
Little did DeHerrera know that additional delays would drag the case out for another year and a half. But now, the Civil Service Commission has issued a document entitled "Findings, Conclusions, Decision and Order," which goes through the DeHerrera incident yet again before announcing its final determination.
The "Findings of Fact" section maintains that on the night in question, DeHerrera and Johnson caused a stir at the club when both tried to use the women's bathroom. Bouncers subsequently escorted both of them outside, where they encountered Murr, who was working security at the venue in an off-duty capacity. The document says Murr asked DeHerrera and Johnson to leave, prompting physical contact of some sort, although witnesses can't agree on who did the pushing, shoving and/or striking.
In any event, Johnson was subsequently taken to the ground by one Gabriel Esquibel at Murr's instruction. Meanwhile, DeHerrera made a phone call to his father, a police officer himself. But the conversation was interrupted when Sparks, who arrived after the original incident, went after him in brutal fashion. The reason, the document suggests, is that Murr told Sparks DeHerrera had punched him earlier and needed to go to jail.
Continue for more about the firing of Office Devin Sparks, including photos, video and the complete decision. Afterward, Sparks insisted that he'd gone after DeHerrera in response to aggressive movement and resistance on the latter's part -- actions not on view in the video. Likewise, Murr told investigators that he'd seen DeHerrera try to hit Sparks, contradicting the visual evidence.
Michael DeHerrera during an appearance on Good Morning America.
In the end, the commission's majority determined that Sparks had used excessive force and then lied about his actions. Here's an excerpt:
The Panel finds that DeHerrera, though most likely intoxicated and aggravated at seeing his friend being arrested, was not engaged in active aggression to avoid arrest, but was engaged in defensive resistance to the arrest. DeHerrera did not comply with police directives and continued to talk on his cell phone and moved his hands in an animated fashion. The Panel finds that the City's expert witness was more credible in describing the use of force as not objectively reasonable as seen in the HALO video. There were other less aggressive means available to arrest DeHerrera which Sparks did not employ. The series of false statements at clear odds with the HALO video and the other evidence of record are misleading. Given the extent of the differences and the lack of any reasonable explanation for the differences, the Panel concludes that Sparks made the false statements knowing that they were false to try to avoid being disciplined for inappropriate use of force.
In contrast, the commission found that Murr's statements mostly matched those of witnesses, with the exception of his claim that DeHerrera had tried to sock Sparks -- and he retracted the assertion upon seeing the video, blaming his previous statement on "an improper misperception of the events."
In the end, the panel found that Sparks used inappropriate force against DeHerrera, declaring that "the appropriate discipline for this violation is thirty (30) days suspension without pay." But the members also feel Sparks committed a "deceptive act...by willfully, intentionally, and knowingly departing from the truth verbally, making false reports and intentionally omitting information in conjunction with his reports and interviews with regard to his use of force while arresting Michael DeHerrera."
One more thing: "The Panel also finds that the appropriate discipline for this violation is dismissal."
And Murr? The panel determined that Murr did not commit a deceptive act, "and his dismissal from the Classified Service for that violation is reversed. Corporal Murr shall be reinstated to his position with all back pay, seniority and other benefits due from the date of termination."
That could be a huge chunk of change -- but Murr isn't in the clear quite yet. While the U.S. Justice Department has decided not to smack him and others involved in the Alex Landau case with federal civil-rights violations, the city's own investigations into the matter -- which resulted in a $795,000 settlement with Landau -- is still pending.
On top of that, the city is planning to appeal the decision to once again reinstate Murr. Here's a just-released statement from Denver City Attorney Doug Friednash:
While the City Attorney's Office is pleased that the hearing officer panel upheld the dismissal of Officer Devin Sparks for commission of a deceptive act and his lengthy suspension for unnecessary force, we are profoundly disappointed with the panel's decision to reverse the dismissal of Corporal Randy Murr. The evidence provided at the hearing regarding Corporal Murr's deceptive statements and reports was compelling. In fact, the panel found that Corporal Murr falsely reported seeing Michael DeHerrera take a swing at Officer Sparks, yet reinstated him to the police department. An appeal of that aspect of the decision will be filed.
Continue to see a video of the attack on DeHerrera and the Civil Service Commission's report. Here's the video of DeHerrera's beating, courtesy of the Denver Post, followed by the report.
Correction: The initial version of this post incorrectly stated that the Civil Service Commission's decision is likely the final word in this case. In fact, all parties can appeal the decision and, as noted above, Denver City Attorney Doug Friednash promises just such an action when it comes to Randy Murr's reinstatement. We regret the error.
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Michael DeHerrera talks about reinstatement of cops who beat him (VIDEO)."
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