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Denver police misconduct allegations: A Westword update

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In this week's cover story, "Back on the Beat," Westword explores recent changes within the Denver Police Department's oversight system and its investigation of Alex Landau's January 2009 beating. For a while, there won't be any changes: While the Department of Justice analyzes the Landau, the DPD has delayed its own inquiry. But Landau's is not the only case with developments in the past year. Below, find additional information on a handful of other high-priority officer misconduct cases, with links to our original coverage.

Last year, as our feature notes, the City of Denver spent $1.34 million settling police-brutality lawsuits. More than half of that was connected to Landau's case. But along with the DPD's current backlog of officer misconduct investigations, a few high-profile cases have yet to come to a real conclusion.

In April 2009, a few months after Landau was pulled over, then-23-year-old Michael DeHerrera and his partner, Shawn Johnson, were beaten by DPD officers in LoDo -- an incident caught on camera. Then-Manager of Safety Ron Perea originally suspended Randy Murr, who was also involved in the Landau case, and Devin Sparks for three days as punishment for their actions. But that decision created such a firestorm of controversy that Perea left and the DPD reopened its investigation. Seven months later, then-Manager of Safety Charles Garcia called for the dismissal of both men, who were found to have lied about the proceedings. But the officers appealed to the city's Civil Service Commission, the organization responsible for hearing disciplinary appeals for the Denver police, fire and sheriff's departments.

The commission's hearing panel sided with Perea, supporting a technicality and reinstating the officers without actually holding an appeal hearing. In April, the commission ruled that the hearing panel had made a mistake in reinstating Sparks and Murr, who were re-fired. But they still have the opportunity to appeal their termination and will go before the same hearing panel in October.

Officer Ricky Nixon, who'd originally pulled Landau over, and officer Kevin Devine were involved in another controversial 2009 incident in which they beat and maced a group of women on camera outside the Denver Diner. Originally fired by Garcia, they, too, appealed, and are now back on the force -- at least until a Civil Service Commission panel can hear an appeal of that firing. A clerical error was responsible for this snafu: City lawyers missed their deadline to ask for a delay in reinstatement by four days, allowing Nixon and Devine to return to the force by default.

During the initial investigation of that incident, Mary Beth Klee, now head of Internal Affairs, and other DPD supervisors testified that the officers involved had acted within their job descriptions; that inspired concerns about her promotion. "I think the public should understand that some of these things are not clear outcomes," Martinez says. "Simply because two parties do not agree does not mean either one is being unreasonable or either one is being unbiased."

Other controversial cases have reached some kind of closure. In July 2011, 29-year-old Alonzo Ashley died in an incident at the Denver Zoo, during which he allegedly attacked a zoo guard. The eight officers involved in Ashley's case will not face any charges; in January, Martinez's office released its decision not to discipline those present that night.

Also in July 2011, inmate Marvin Booker died in jail after five sheriff's deputies subdued him. A camera captured the incident and footage made the rounds on the Internet showing Booker waiting to be booked into the system and then becoming embroiled in a physical struggle with the deputies. Booker was warned to stop struggling or risk being tased -- and the deputies made good on the threat, also using a carotid hold on Booker. Later, inside his cell, Booker could not be resuscitated by medical experts. The Manager of Safety's Office declined to terminate any of the deputies, but the sheriff's department has stopped using the carotid hold.

And back in 2003, DPD officer James Turney shot fifteen-year-old Paul Childs four times and killed him. According to accounts of the incident, Childs, who was developmentally disabled, held a sizeable knife. Turney earned a ten-month suspension based on alleged procedural errors in his actions that night. The incident also inspired John Hickenlooper, just elected Mayor of Denver, to establish the Office of the Independent Monitor.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Appeals hearing for Michael DeHerrera officers delayed (again) until October."

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Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


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