In March, when we told you about the dismissal of Officer James Medina after allegedly causing a female inmate at Denver jail to pass out by restricting her breathing with his knee, we noted that "firings of Denver police officers for excessive force are seldom simple or easy."
We added: "Consider the case of officers Ricky Nixon and Kevin Devine, who were dismissed over an excessive force claim at the Denver Diner in 2009, only to be reinstated in 2012, then fired again — a decision that prompted a lawsuit from Nixon and an angry resignation letter from Devine."
Just shy of five months later, Medina's case has become similarly complicated.
A ruling by the Civil Service Commission (see it below) calls for Medina to be rehired as a result of what is, in essence, a technicality: Medina was initially recommended for a suspension and wasn't informed that firing was on the table.
Medina won't be back on the job anytime soon, since the Denver Department of Public Safety is appealing the ruling — but there remains a definite possibility that he could return to the force despite controversial actions captured on video seen here.
On July 10, 2014, according to the CSC ruling, Medina and Officer Cheryl Smith responded to a call to assist another Denver police officer, Ramone Young, "with a sick and intoxicated male who had fallen over a chair" at a 32nd and Downing Burger King.
Causing the problem, the report maintains, were "two other individuals who were interfering with [Young's] and emergency responders' efforts to aid the sick man."
The pair in question were Seryina Trujillo and her boyfriend. He was "visibly intoxicated and obnoxiously racially insulting and interfering," so Young decided to transport him to detox, which infuriated Trujillo. Among other things, she's said to have spat in Smith's face.
Things got off to a bad start between Trujillo and Medina when she allegedly kicked him in the face, prompting him to respond by punching her in the same place
Shortly thereafter, Trujillo was transported to District 2, where she was asked to remove her shoes and belt, as per standard policy. When she refused, Medina tried to take off the shoes himself.
A scuffle ensued, with Trujillo knocking off Medina's glasses and scratching him, drawing blood.
At that point, Medina restrained her by placing a knee on her chest (and perhaps her neck), at which point she appeared to lose consciousness. When she snapped out of it, the argument continued, with Medina asking at one point, "Why did you try to bite me? An additional charge is going to be added. I know what you did and I know what I did. Don't cry now. Tell it to God."
Afterward, Medina didn't inform anyone about what had happened. Indeed, the report notes that "probably none of this would have come to light except that Officer Cheryl Smith informed Detective Phil Coleman that 'something might have happened' in the holding cell between Ms. Trujillo and Officer Medina. It was then discovered that no Use of Force report had been filed for the holding cell incident and that no medical attention had been called to attend to Ms. Trujillo after she obviously slumped to the ground after force had been used to remove her belt and shoes."
Following an investigation, Denver Police Commander Michael Battista recommended that Medina be disciplined for the incident with consecutive thirty-day suspensions and a two-year probationary order.
Department of Public Safety Deputy Director Jess Vigil, who was appointed in 2012 to a position overseeing police discipline, determined that firing was more appropriate and lowered the boom.
This determination undoubtedly frosted Vigil's critics. Note that in April, the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police called for Vigil to resign after his daughter called him a "hater of police" on social media.
Now, however, CSC hearing officer Terry Tomsick has determined that the switch from wrist-slap to termination violated Medina's rights. As such, Tomsick imposed the original penalty of consecutive thirty-day suspensions.
The suspensions would have run their course by June 3, the report says. As such, Tomsick ordered Medina to be rehired and given back-pay beginning on June 3.
That hasn't happened yet. The Department of Public Safety's appeal puts everything on hold.
“While we respect the authority of Civil Service hearing officers, we do not agree with the determination that officer Medina’s due process rights were violated,” department spokeswoman Daelene Mix told Fox31. “Given the facts of the case, we maintain termination is appropriate and will appeal the hearing officer’s decision to the full commission and request a stay of the officer’s reinstatement and back pay until the appeal is heard.”
Simple? Definitely not.
Look below to see a CBS4 report from the time of Medina's firing, followed by the Civil Service Commission findings.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.