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Monitor: Deputy Deserved Discipline for Lying About Inmate Suicide Threat

Deputy Timothy Kemble watches GED volunteer instructor Becky Graham make a hanging gesture.
Deputy Timothy Kemble watches GED volunteer instructor Becky Graham make a hanging gesture.

According to Denver's Office of the Independent Monitor, a deputy at the main city jail appears to have ignored a warning from a volunteer that an inmate wanted to die by suicide, then lied about having received an alert about the threat. And while the deputy was later temporarily suspended for failing to adequately address the safety of the inmate, who received psychological treatment before he could harm himself, he suffered no discipline for making false claims.

The investigation is laid out in the OIM's most recent semi-annual report, which includes videos from the incident. While the clips do not include audio, they include moments when a subject can be seen making a gesture simulating hanging — the inmate to volunteer GED instructor Becky Graham in the first, and Graham to the deputy, Timothy Kemble, in the second.

For his part, Kemble seems to be more interested in eating a snack than what the inmate may have been experiencing.

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Details of this incident have surfaced in the wake of a late 2019 announcement that the Denver Sheriff Department plans to institute a body-camera pilot program at the jail. Ninety deputies at the facility, also known as the Downtown Detention Center, are expected to take part starting this spring, and the devices will record sound. However, DSD communications director Daria Serna, corresponding via email, notes that only deputies assigned to the intake area will initially receive a camera. So even if the program had been in place when the suicide threat incident occurred, she acknowledges that Kemble would not have possessed a camera; further expansion is possible after the roll-out is analyzed, Serna notes.

Suicides in local jails are a growing problem in Colorado, and have resulted in numerous lawsuits over the past few years. In March 2019, the attorney for Dillon Blodgett, who took his own life at the Montrose County jail in 2016, told us that such acts are part of a disturbing pattern, and this assertion has been reinforced by similar tragedies — among them the August suicide of Michael Courtney while incarcerated in Boulder and the death of Jillian White while in custody at the Aspen jail last month.

The Denver inmate isn't identified in the OIM analysis or other reports provided by the City of Denver: an investigation by the Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB), a memo from Sergeant Joseph Bowen, and the letter concerning potential punishment for Kemble. All three of those name Kemble and Graham.

The events discussed by the independent monitor took place on January 23, 2018, when the inmate told Graham he wanted to hang himself. The exchange is memorialized in the video below; the inmate, whose identity is obscured, can be seen making the aforementioned hanging gesture just past the two-minute mark.

The exchange between Graham and the inmate took place in a room adjacent to one where Kemble was sitting at an oversized work station outfitted with two monitors. After four minutes or so, the pair at the center of the first video can be seen passing through a door into the space occupied by Kemble.

After the inmate leaves the room, Graham approaches the deputy. According to the independent monitor's report, she informed Kemble about the suicidal threat "and asked if counseling could be made available."

Kemble "told her the inmate would have to ask for assistance on his own," the report continues, "and he took no action to notify a supervisor or have the inmate checked by medical or psychological staff, as policy required."

In the second video below, Graham makes a hanging gesture to Kemble about 5:50 minutes into the footage.

Rather than simply accepting Kemble's answer, Graham told Sergeant Joseph Bowen about the inmate's hanging-related declaration. "The sergeant followed procedure by having the inmate psychologically screened," the monitor's report states.

Bowen then contacted Kemble, according to the report, who allegedly admitted that Graham had told him about the inmate's suicide risk but claimed "he had not known what to do, since the inmate had not spoken to him directly."

This story changed shortly after Kemble was summoned to the office of Captain Kenneth Juranek, who had previously been the subject of his own internal affairs inquiry, as documented in our February 2019 post "Eight Times When Denver Cops Got in Trouble on Social Media." Specifically, one of Juranek's Facebook friends had accused the captain of using social media to share "negative comments about African-Americans, gays and Hispanic people" that he felt encouraged "hatred and discontent." Investigators subsequently concluded that some of Juranek's posts "were politically conservative, generally in support of President Trump and against liberal ideologies, anti-Hillary Clinton and former President Obama but not expressly racially biased," and he received no penalty.

When speaking with Juranek, Kemble was accompanied by an employee representative, and this time around, he "denied that the GED instructor had spoken to him about the inmate."

In a memo about the incident, Bowen doesn't flat-out charge Kemble with lying, but he comes close — and he also makes it clear that the deputy should have noticed that the inmate was struggling even without the alert from Graham.

"From my video review," Bowen writes, "I have determined that D/S Kemble missed three opportunities to see noose signals on the video screen, which was right in front of him the whole time. In addition, he missed five opportunities on video to see that [the inmate] was upset and crying. ... It is also clear that Civilian Becky Graham told D/S Kemble about the suicidal statements, which likely means that [the deputy's] response was as reported by Civilian Becky Graham. ... Due to the multiple policy violations, the complete disregard for [the inmate's] safety and well-being, and the dishonesty, I have no choice but to recommend formal discipline in this matter."

During the Internal Affairs Bureau investigation that followed, Kemble continued to insist that Graham hadn't verbally told him that the inmate wanted to hang himself. However, the monitor's report notes that "the deputy could not credibly explain why she would make [a noose gesture] without telling him about the suicidal statements, or the conflicts between his first admission to the sergeant and his later denials in the captain's office and to IAB."

Given that, the OIM considers Kemble's ten-day suspension for "failing to protect the suicidal inmate from harm" less than adequate. "We believe, however, that a preponderance of the evidence also made it more likely than not that the deputy's denials that he had a conversation with the GED instructor about the suicidal inmate constituted knowingly misleading statements to a supervisor and a deceptive act during the IAB investigation," the report notes. "The DOS did not charge specifications for Knowingly Making Misleading or Inaccurate Statements or Commission of a Deceptive Act, and no discipline was imposed for these violations, as we believe it should have been."

Click to read the 2019 semi-annual Office of the Independent Monitor report (the key section begins on page 19), the Deputy Timothy Kemble Internal Affairs Bureau report, the Sergeant Joseph Bowen memo, and the final discipline letter.

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