Activism

Representative Herod Ready to Introduce Bill to Close SB-217 Loopholes

Representative Leslie Herod represents House District 8 in northeast Denver.
Representative Leslie Herod represents House District 8 in northeast Denver. Erin McCarley
After Greenwood Village City Council introduced a resolution attempting to negate a key provision of Colorado SB-217, a sweeping police reform law, a major backer of that law says she's ready to introduce legislation to close any potential loopholes.

"If we have cities who want to do a runaround of 217, then we will create stronger legislation to ensure that they are also held accountable for the bad actions of their officers," says Representative Leslie Herod, a Democrat from Denver who helped secure the bill's passage in bipartisan fashion after thousands took to the streets to demand justice following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

On July 6, Greenwood Village City Council passed a resolution that aims to shield the city's police officers from being on the hook financially for any lawsuits brought under SB-217 that allege bad-faith actions or knowingly illegal conduct by an officer on the job. In particular, SB-217 created up to $25,000 in personal civil liability for a law enforcement officer sued under the law, if an employer determines that the officer acted in bad faith or knew what they were doing was illegal. Greenwood Village City Council is instead opting for the city to pick up that tab itself.

Herod believes Greenwood Village City Council is sending a message that "even when an officer acts in bad faith, [the city] will have their back no matter what."

"I don’t think that what they’ve done is legitimate or legal. You can’t say that someone in the future will never act in bad faith or commit a crime," Herod says.

In a lengthy July 9 statement, Greenwood Village challenges claims that it was shielding its police from accountability, saying that "nothing could be further from the truth."

The Greenwood Village statement cites examples of how the police department has made significant reforms in the past. "Based on our workforce, training and culture that have existed for a long time in our City," it continues, "we do not believe that the added potential punishment of $25,000 judgment will affect their actions one way or another in those few seconds of crisis when officers have to make split second life or death decisions."

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser disagrees with this characterization of the resolution, however.

“If local governments pass resolutions to place a blanket shield for their law enforcement officers, regardless of whether they act in bad faith, they are going against the spirit of SB 20-217 and its goal of accountability for wrongful conduct. I encourage local governments to implement this law as envisioned and find appropriate ways to demonstrate their support and appreciation for responsible law enforcement officers. If they decline to do so, I expect the legislature will take action in January to address this issue," says Weiser.

And he's right on that; Herod is already on the case. "I’m just disappointed that the city council has chosen to be on the wrong side of this issue and the wrong side of history," she concludes.

Local high school students who also oppose the resolution will be gathering at 4 p.m. today, July 9, to demand that the resolution be revoked. 
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.