The racial-justice protests that shook the Mile High City a year ago have led to at least five lawsuits against the Denver Police Department, including one filed by Michael Acker, who contends that DPD officers shot to maim, and another by Russell Strong, who lost an eye after being struck by a kinetic-impact projectile while holding a sign bearing the peace symbol. And in December, the Office of the Independent Monitor issued a report excoriating a wide range of departmental practices throughout the events.
The Denver Police Department's response? On May 4, DPD officials revealed discipline but no termination for a grand total of two officers, Diego Archuleta and Derek Streeter; Archuleta was suspended for six days, while Streeter will be sitting out for ten. And while the chair of Denver's Citizen Oversight Board has reportedly said more cops could be punished for their protest-related efforts, there's been no hint of anything beyond suspensions.
The Archuleta incident took place just after midnight on June 1, 2020, the fifth day of demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. According to his DPD discipline order, "The protests were of an unprecedented scale and each day after sundown, the legitimate protest activity devolved into destructive and violent riots."
In reviewing footage from body-worn cameras that captured interactions between District 4 impact teams and citizens on the 1400 block of Logan Street, a sergeant flagged footage showing a woman in a small sport-utility vehicle who "was expressing contempt for the officers' action." Archuleta is said to have reacted to her asking "What, they gonna kill this guy?" by unleashing a blast from his "OC fogger" — oleoresin capsaicin is the active ingredient in pepper spray — at the woman's windshield before walking away.
When questioned about his actions, Archuleta admitted, "I made a mistake. ... As soon as I did that, I, you know, I wanted to remove myself, because I shouldn't have OC-fogged her windshield."
His conclusion: "I'm better than that, and I just apologize."
Like Archuleta, Streeter was dinged for reacting to verbal criticism with violent force. His suspension order cites body-worn camera footage from just after 11 p.m. on May 29, day two of the protests, when he was riding on the running board of a police vehicle as it traveled north on Broadway and stopped just south of the 14th Avenue intersection. At that point, the vehicle stopped, the officers dismounted and Streeter was seen "reloading and recharging his PepperBall launcher."
At that point, a light-colored sedan drove by and one of its occupants yelled, "You can't even spell country [unintelligible]." A second, similarly hued vehicle followed, with a female hollering, "This is what y'all get [uintelligible]' and a man adding, "Fuckwad! You pussies! [unintelligible]."
Streeter's reaction? He fired "three PepperBall rounds in the car's direction."
In a subsequent interview, Streeter claimed that he'd fired at the car because "I believed this male was positioning himself to throw something at us or assault us as he passed, [because of] the fact I could not see both of his hands as he was hanging out of the vehicle."
But "Officer Streeter's explanation for firing the three rounds is not plausible," the investigators concluded. "The passenger was hanging out of the window while screaming obscenities at the officers, likely holding onto the moving car as it proceeded away from the officers. The moving car was a significant distance away from the officers when Officer Streeter first attempted to fire PepperBalls. ... At that initial distance, the passenger did not present a viable threat to the officers. The vehicle was even farther away at the time of the firing."
These actions were clearly problematic — but that it took nearly twelve months to administer what are essentially a pair of wrist slaps is an indictment of the current discipline system that will do little to persuade critics that the Denver Police Department is capable of policing itself.