Citizen's Arrest

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And Ford is very much involved with the Denver police. Chief Michaud has been a good friend since the two met at the funeral of restaurateur Daddy Bruce Randolph several years ago. Commissioners are supposed to do a ride-along with police four times a year. Ford rides once a month. "If I'm gonna sit down and assess something, I want to make sure I understand it," he says.

That may explain his reluctance to join the commission, which was born out of confrontation with the cops. The commission was founded in 1992, after years of criticism about police conduct came to a head with the 1991 beating of a fifteen-year-old boy following a car chase. A special nineteen-member civilian panel headed by city councilman Hiawatha Davis took testimony about police conduct in general, and after some wrangling between the mayor, who wanted a five-member commission with greatly curtailed powers, and city council members Davis and Tim Sandos, who wanted a stronger, seven-member commission, a deal was cut. Davis and Sandos got their seven members; Webb was successful in stripping the commission of any real muscle--and also won the right to appoint the commissioners.

Since the beginning, the police union has gone head-to-head with the commission. The Police Protective Association challenged the commission's subpoena power in court, and though a Denver judge upheld that subpoena power in late 1995, the case has been appealed.

This past January, two officers took the Fifth when they were summoned by the commission to give testimony. One officer, Jerome Powell, was accused of punching a motorist in the face and throwing him against a wall. By the time the case got to the commission, an internal police investigation had cleared him. The other officer, Scott Blatnick, shot and killed a man in 1995; he was exonerated by the district attorney's office, which said he had used justifiable force. Though subpoenaed by the commission, the two officers refused to testify; city attorneys are currently seeking a court order to force them to talk. The matter is still pending in Denver District Court, according to the city attorney's office.

Most of the commissioners see Powell's and Blatnick's refusal to testify as isolated events; since then, notes commission chairwoman Adrienne Benavidez, other officers have given testimony voluntarily. But while commissioners and even the police department's liaison to the PSRC paint a picture of improved relations, police distrust remains beneath the surface.

"We don't fear civilian oversight," says Captain John Lamb, the police liaison. "What we don't want is people coming in here with their own agenda. Now that we've gone through the curve, the process runs very smoothly."

But for police, the ambivalence rises as the rank lowers. Detective Alex Woods Sr., president of the PPA, calls the commission an unnecessary political fix. "Our problem is, there's a lot of taxpayer money that could be used elsewhere," he says. "I think it's just a frustration."

Two of the commission members are former cops--Joe Sandoval, now a criminal-justice professor at Metro State College, and Brian Muldoon, a Philadelphia police officer turned attorney. But the rest of the members are self-styled community activists. Benavidez is on the Latino Education Coalition and is a constant critic of Denver Public Schools. She also was a Democratic candidate for state representative in 1994. DeForest is prominent in Denver's gay and lesbian community, while Sami Nakazono is active in the city's Asian community. C. Lamont Smith is the lawyer who represented four black women after they got into an altercation with two white customers at a Denny's restaurant in 1994.

Ford is an activist, too, but soon after his appointment in March, he began to realize that he stood apart from his colleagues. He says he was interested in "building bridges," while his colleagues were more concerned with giving cops a hard time. That antagonism has only intensified with time. "There's a couple I'm cordial with," he says of the other commissioners. "The others, it's just a matter of being professional."

The other commissioners don't know what to make of Gill Ford.
"Reverend Ford will be Gill Ford, and he'll do whatever he wants," says Joe Sandoval with some exasperation. Asked whether Ford is consistently pro-police, Sandoval adds, "Yeah, it does appear that way on many occasions. I've heard many similar things from people in the community. Reverend Ford has his own peculiar view of things, and on the one hand I accept it, but on the other I sometimes don't know quite where he's coming from."

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T.R. Witcher