Eight Questions That Should Have Been Included on the Application for Deputy Sheriffs

Time is running out for anyone interested in joining the largest-ever class of recruits for Denver Deputy Sheriff positions; applications close at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday. By early this week, more than 1,000 people had applied for 100 open positions – an unprecedented number of potential recruits, with whom the Denver Sheriff's Department hopes to fill staffing shortages and reform its image following years of scandals (see below).

Apply now for the $51,180-to-$71,318 a year job, and you, too, could be selected for this exciting career opportunity. No experience is necessary, but you’ll need a high school diploma or GED certificate. Additionally, all applicants must answer 22 supplemental questions that include things like:
Are you willing and able to work nights, weekends, holidays and rotating shifts?
• Yes
• No
Are you willing and able to work in small and/or confined areas?
• Yes
• No
Are you willing and able to work amongst prisoners and the public?
• Yes
• No
Denver’s new sheriff, Patrick Firman, has said that filling the large number of positions “isn’t just about warm bodies,” but that he hopes to find quality recruits who share his department’s vision.

Yet given the department’s recent history — with brutality incidents, embarrassing scandals, inmate deaths and high settlement costs, such as the $6 million paid to the family of Marvin Booker — it seems that the job application for new deputy sheriffs should have asked a few more things.

Here are eight more application questions that could help the Denver Sheriff's  Department avoid future problems:

1) You won’t help any of our inmates escape, right?

Surely, the department will want to avoid hiring anyone like Deputy Matthew Andrews, who in 2013 helped an inmate named Felix Trujillo escape Denver’s jail by letting Trujillo wear a sheriff’s jacket and hat. Afterwards, Andrews claimed that he only aided in the escape because of threats to his family. But Trujillo later told CBS that Andrews believed he’d receive $500,000 in return for the break-out. “Yeah, he’s pretty dumb,” the inmate said of Andrews. Now, that’s embarrassing.

2) Are you prone to shoplifting during your off-time?

A very specific question, but it might shield the department from hiring more people like Michael Than, formerly a high-ranking deputy, who was indicted last year on eight felony counts, including charges that he stole 1,288 copies of Turbo Tax software from Target stores in metro Denver. After sneaking the software out from stores inside items like bags of dog food, Than is alleged to have made $60,325 by reselling it on eBay.

3) Do you know how to use a phone?

Although the event did not take place in Denver, this city can learn some lessons from what happened in August when a La Platt County sheriff's deputy forgot to hang up his phone when leaving a voicemail for Durango Herald reporter Chase Olivarius-McAllister.

Not aware that the voicemail was still recording, Sergeant Zach Farnam joked with colleagues about Olivarius-McAllister’s "fucking giant" rack, how some people from the U.K. have bad teeth (the reporter is British by birth), and how eating fish-and-chips apparently leads to "huge boobs."

The conversation was later uploaded to YouTube (above), highlighting not just Sergeant Farnam’s inability to operate a phone, but his sexist attitudes. So perhaps another question for male applicants should be: are you an asshole towards women?

4) For female applicants: How do you feel about male inmates masturbating in front of you?

Actually, this question wouldn’t need to be asked if the department made sure that female deputies didn't feel sexually harassed inside Denver’s jails.

In a lawsuit filed this month, two female deputies have described horrifying conditions in Denver County Jail when female deputies are assigned to supervise male inmates. According to the suit, female law enforcement personnel are routinely assailed by derogatory terms and threats of sexual assault, as well as subjected to inmates who "intentionally masturbate in front of female deputies and intentionally expose their genitals to female deputies."

The suit further maintains that female deputies are not incentivized to report such cases because the department has failed to act upon the complaints. Maybe it’s time it did.

5) While on jail duty, is it likely you’ll distribute porn to inmates and drink hard alcohol from a thermos?

The department may want to weed out any recruits who would display the same sort of alleged behavior as Deputy Gayle Rumer. In documents released by U.S. District Judge John Kane last year, an Internal Affairs investigation compiled complaints from inmates at the Downtown Detention Center that Deputy Rumer had created a “Terror Dome” in the unit he supervised, 3A.

The complaints included:
"Claims of a lot of porn around, both being sold and given out" "Claims Rumer would ignore fights and gang activities." "Claims inmates would wait until Rumer was working to fight." "Claims that Rumer was always drinking alcohol from a silver thermos.”
Never mind the fact that the documents were already related to a high-profile abuse lawsuit – that of Jamal Hunter, who said he was not properly protected from inmates who scarred his genitals with boiling water and from two deputies who attacked him.

6) On a scale from 1 to 10, how likely are you to punch out a non-violent inmate?

The only qualifying answer should be “1”…or maybe even “0.” That way, the department might avoid situations like the Thomas Ford scandal, when a deputy of that name was caught on video brutally beating an apparently non-violent inmate.

7) Are you compassionate towards people with mental-health issues?

Working with inmates with mental illnesses can be a challenge, but that’s no excuse for denying them respect. Michael Marshall is the latest jail abuse case to make headlines this month, after the schizophrenic man was beaten during a confrontation in the Downtown Detention Center, and later died. Six Denver deputies are currently on suspension as the city investigates Marshall’s death, and a video of the incident will later be released to the public. The family’s attorney, Mari Newman, has said:
“People with mental health issues are at extraordinary risk of bad outcomes from contact with law enforcement in Denver, and that’s something we as a community simply need to address.”
8) Do you have common sense?

The right answer to this question alone might solve most of the department’s problems.