Last week, 22 unnamed applicants were in the running to become the city's next chief of police. The Police Chief Search Committee has whittled that list down to five officers within Denver's police ranks: Commander Michael Calo, Commander Joseph Montoya, Commander Paul Pazen, Deputy Chief David Quinones and Commander Ronald Saunier.
Whoever gets selected for the job will be replacing retiring Denver police chief Robert White, who previously served as a police chief in Louisville, Kentucky, before his appointment by Mayor Michael Hancock in 2011.
“The committee met for six hours yesterday and had a robust discussion to identify the candidates with the interpersonal skills and personal characteristics they believe will be a good fit for Denver,” Denver Department of Safety Executive Director Troy Riggs says in a statement. “They decided to interview five strong candidates who represent the talent that exists within the Denver Police Department.”
White announced his retirement in April, soon after he was let off the hook by Hancock in two internal-affairs investigations. One investigation relates to a 2017 hit-and-run accident during which White was hit by another car; that person fled the scene, but White, who was off-duty at the time, followed the suspect, who then wrecked three blocks away. The other investigations relate to White's involvement in the handling of a sexual-assault allegation in 2016, when then-district attorney Mitch Morrissey sent a scathing letter to White for the arrests of Angiella Arnot and then-Denver cop Davin Munk. White subsequently failed to release Morrissey's letter under public-record laws.
So what about the complaints and disciplinary records of the five candidates running for police chief?
Of all the candidates, Calo has the largest number of complaints — thirty — lodged against him both internally and from citizens, though he was cleared of any wrongdoing in several of them. Five complaints came from citizens alleging inappropriate use of force, but only one, dating back to 1987, was substantiated and resulted in formal discipline. Calo has been disciplined twelve times since he joined the DPD in 1984, all of which resulted in oral or written reprimands. What's most revealing is that eight of Calo's substantiated complaints were for failure to obey traffic regulations; most of these have occurred since 2010.
Pazen comes in second, with 21 complaints lodged since he joined the department in 1995. Of those complaints, only eight were substantiated and resulted in formal discipline. Pazen has also been disciplined for use of force and failure to obey traffic regulations; he received an eight-hour fine for a failure-to-shoot citation in 2001. It's worth noting that Alex Landau, who made headlines after he was brutally beaten by Denver police in 2009, has spoken highly of Pazen's interest in national community policing models to reduce violent crime.
Quinones, who has been on the force since 1986, has eleven complaints. While citizen complaints in the past included a warrantless search of a car and inappropriate use of force, none were substantiated. Only three complaints were substantiated and resulted in discipline, including for a preventable accident and for violating the city's police employment moonlighting policy.
Montoya has seen seven complaints lodged against him since he was hired in 1991, including one unfounded citizen complaint of inappropriate force when he was three years into his tenure with the department. Overall, Montoya has only ever been disciplined four times, for preventable accidents and failure to obey traffic regulations.
Saunier has had the fewest total complaints lodged against him: only one citizen and three internal complaints since he joined the force in 1986. Of those four complaints, three resulted in discipline for preventable accidents and careless handling of city property.
The five officers will be interviewed by the seventeen-member search committee, and "an unspecified number of candidates" will be recommended to Hancock for the final police chief appointment decision.
Read each of the candidates' rap sheets here:
Update: This story was updated at 8:45 a.m. June 15 to correct an error regarding Paul Pazen's failure-to-shoot citation. It resulted in an eight-hour fine (taken from comp time), not a suspension; Pazen has never been suspended from the Denver Police Department. Our apologies.
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