News

Chris Colbruno's Naked March at Center of Denver Sheriff Whistleblower Lawsuit


Just over a week after a scathing critique of the Denver Sheriff's Department, Brent Miller, a civilian investigator who was recently fired by the DSD, has filed a federal lawsuit against the agency.

Among the other parties named: the City of Denver, Manager of Safety Stephanie O'Malley, interim Sheriff Elias Diggins and two DSD captains, William Thomas and Paul Ortega.

Miller contends that he was fired as retaliation for whistleblowing, and his lawsuit, on view below, cites a pair of examples, with the most vivid being an alleged command to destroy a video recording of inmate Christopher Colbruno being marched naked through Denver Health Medical Center.

Leading the way on the story is CBS4, which sat down with Miller prior to the filing of the suit; that report is shared here as well.


The lawsuit notes that Miller worked as an Adams County sheriff's deputy for more than 25 years prior to his retirement in October 2014. Shortly thereafter, he was hired by the DSD to work as an on-call senior criminal/civil investigator.

During his first period on the job, during which he worked under former Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson, Miller had no problems. But when Robinson left to make way for Ortega, he took heat over an investigation focusing on a deputy's alleged use of force during an off-duty incident at a Denny's restaurant.

The law-enforcer involved is referred to only as Deputy Doe, as a way of protecting his/her identity.


Questions were raised about Deputy Doe's handcuffing of an intoxicated female, and while Miller found no evidence of wrongdoing, the suit says Sheriff Diggins "wanted it to go forward." To that end, Ortega allegedly asked Miller to remove portions of his case summary — material that was exculpatory toward Deputy Doe. An excerpt from the document:
Miller told Captain Ortega he felt it was unethical to remove facts from a case summary and that he felt it was important for a decision-maker to have all relevant facts in a case in order to make an informed decision. Captain Ortega informed Miller a second time that it was an "Order" and to remove the information.
Afterward, Miller complained to Shannon Elwell, a staffer at the Manager of Safety's Office also named in the suit. In response, Elwell allegedly said staffers "were going to sustain violations against Deputy Doe," but "we can't do that with your information in there" — and when Miller accused her of bias, he was summoned to Ortega's office.

There, the suit maintains, Ortega told Miller that he "did not understand how things are done in Denver and that Miller cannot say things like that or he won't last around here" — a message allegedly reinforced at a later time by Captain Thomas.

Meanwhile, in early May, Miller was assigned to investigate a complaint lodged by Denver Health employees. According to them, "Denver Deputy Sheriffs walked Colbruno into DHMC nude except for orange mittens over his hands while he was handcuffed. This was documented on video and by a written complaint from DMHC staff."

By the way, CBS4 reports that Colbruno was stripped down after soiling his clothing.


It didn't take long for Miller to find the footage. But before he could upload it, the suit quotes Ortega as telling him that the case had "been taken care of...they are making it go away."

The "they" in this case was the sheriff, the suit states.

As before, Miller objected to an order to ignore evidence. Ortega's alleged response: ""Get rid of the video...lose it."

Rather than doing so, Miller continued to challenge the order, and within days, he was fired; he left the gig on May 14. A statement O'Malley provided to CBS4 says his dismissal was related to on-the-job performance issues. The lawsuit argues that he was bounced for being "too opinionated."

The defendants in the lawsuit haven't publicly commented on the merits of the case. But from a public relations standpoint, Miller's complaint is the last thing the embattled Denver Sheriff's Department needs right now.

Look below to see the CBS4 report broadcast prior to the lawsuit's filing, followed by the document itself.

Brent Miller Lawsuit.pdf


Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts