In recent years, Westword has reported about the often-twisted reasons for which Denver Police Department officers are disciplined or dismissed. But two recent cases are among the most bizarre yet.
In the first, Sergeant Ronald Kelly was slapped for a series of rude remarks, including a sexist joke and casual mentions of "libtards" and "snowflakes." In the second, Officer Samuel Sheppard was sacked after allegedly claiming falsely that a woman he'd impregnated had essentially raped him.
These incidents, detailed in discipline letters shared here, didn't take place in a vacuum. This past February, we documented eight times Denver cops ran afoul on social media. Included in the roundup was Bethany Candelaria, who abruptly left her new job in communications and marketing for the Denver Sheriff Department after the discovery of controversial posts from her Facebook page, including one that read "Go F*ck Yourselves, America."
Other officers got into trouble by casting aspersions on former police chief Robert White and allegedly using Facebook to spark a hookup with a former inmate who became pregnant. And that's not to mention the officer who escaped punishment despite claims that he'd used the social-media site to call a man a "faggot" and threaten to smash him in the head.
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Then, in April, Jeremy Ownbey, a Denver police officer who narrowly avoided being fired for a 2014 brawl at what's been described as a swingers' party, was canned over an alleged barrage of sexually themed jokes and other harassing remarks aimed at a DPD intern over an eight-hour period during the summer of 2018. Among other things, Ownbey is said to called her a "whore" on multiple occasions and talked about her preferred type of penis.
As for Sergeant Kelly, his penalty consists of six so-called fined days for what his aforementioned discipline letter characterizes as "insensitive and inappropriate comments in the workplace" outlined in the following five bullet points.
• During a lunch discussion about the new domestic violence initiative, Sergeant Kelly retold a joke he heard: "There wouldn't be as much domestic violence incidents if women got dinner on the table on time." Though the complainant said the joke bothered her, she humorously responded, "My husband doesn't have problems getting dinner on the table on time"....
• After learning that the complainant had an advanced degree, Sergeant Kelly said, "You have a master's degree?" in a manner that...conveyed disbelief or was demeaning....
• During a meeting discussing an investigation into a burglary and attempted sexual assault incident, Sergeant Kelly made a comment: "Well, there has to be something else going on. This lady, I mean, she's into drugs or her husband's into drugs, or something like that, and I just, y'know, I just don't think that this is the whole story." The complainant took the comment to be contrary to the department's philosophy of "start by believing"....
• The complainant said that Sergeant Kelly frequently uses the word "libtard" in conversations with herself and others. Sergeant Kelly admitted that he has used the term at work, adding that he did not call the complainant by the name, but he may have used it in her presence....
• The complainant said that Sergeant Kelly used the term "snowflake" as a somewhat derogatory term to describe millennials....
Kelly is hardly the first person wearing a DPD badge to dub someone a libtard. Last year, representatives of RiseUp Community School said officers wielded the word during a havoc-wreaking raid prompted by a futile search during which a gun was pulled on a teacher.
Officer Sheppard's discipline letter finds that he broke regulations in regard to "Commission of a Deceptive Act" and "Conduct Prejudicial of the Denver Police Department Operations Manual" when he was allegedly less than honest regarding "an unfounded sexual assault claim against the complainant," with whom he fathered a child in October 2017.
The next year, on April 1, Sheppard reported that he had been sexually assaulted by the woman during the coupling that led to the child's conception. At the time, he maintained that he was "on prescribed medications" when she "entered his house while he was incapacitated and managed to get him aroused," then "got on top of him."
The next day, the letter allows, Sheppard didn't mention any of these events at a child support hearing in which he admitted that he was the child's biological father. But the subject certainly rose again. During a subsequent investigation, Sheppard is quoted as insisting that the woman in question "took advantage of his altered mental state and the medications he was taking in order to have sex with him."
Nonetheless, Sheppard returned to this theme during a July hearing on a petition for allocation of parental responsibilities. When asked explicitly if he was accusing the woman of rape, he replied, "Sure," and later agreed with a statement by his counsel that the child was "conceived of a non-consensual sexual encounter."
Contradicting evidence was presented by the woman after making a formal complaint to the DPD against Sheppard earlier this year, including a series of text messages. This chirpy exchange, which was sent the morning after the first sexual encounter, makes no mention of anything resembling rape.
This one, meanwhile, makes it clear that the couple continued to have sex well into the woman's pregnancy.
By the way, the footnote on the word "acrobatics" is a reference to an eggplant emoji.
Sheppard's story didn't prove convincing to the Denver District Attorney's Office, which refused to file charges against the woman.
Likewise, the authors of the letter came to the conclusion that "Officer Sheppard made an unfounded sexual assault claim against the complainant seemingly to avoid or limit his financial obligations." They added that it "is inconsistent with an officer's sworn duty to uphold the law for an officer to make an untrue claim of a criminal violation and then persist in that untruthfulness in his internal affairs interview."
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Under the DPD's disciplinary matrix, Sheppard could have been suspended for ninety days had there been any mitigating factors. Because there weren't, he was hit with the maximum penalty: termination.
Of course, such firings don't always stick. Take the bureaucratic odyssey of Officer Stephanie Southard, who was sent packing in 2014 for allegedly having sex while on duty as many as thirty times with Nathan Sanchez, a fellow Denver police officer with whom she was conducting an affair. Sanchez, who resigned from the department before any punishment could be imposed on him, also accused her of attacking him during two arguments. A few months later, a hearing officer determined that Southard should be reinstated with the DPD based partly on her denials and the conclusion that the sex acts as described by Sanchez were improbable and sounded painful. Then-Deputy Director of Safety Jess Vigil appealed the decision, and the Denver Civil Service Commission decided that the firing should stand — but in July 2018, a Denver District Court judge ruled that the hearing officer was right and Southard deserved her job back.
For his part, however, Sheppard didn't file an appeal with the Civil Service Commission prior to the prescribed deadline. That likely makes his letter the final word on his time with the Denver Police Department.