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Denver Sheriff Internal Affairs Bureau to Be Put Under Civilian Control

Deputies and emergency personnel looking at the lifeless body of Michael Lee Marshall in November 2015.
Deputies and emergency personnel looking at the lifeless body of Michael Lee Marshall in November 2015.
YouTube file photo
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Following several high-profile controversies involving Denver's main jail, including the in-custody deaths of Marvin Booker and Michael Lee Marshall, both of which resulted in multimillion-dollar settlements, the Denver Sheriff Department's Internal Affairs Bureau, the division charged with investigating such incidents, is being placed under civilian control.

The DSD and Denver's Department of Public Safety didn't put out a showy announcement about this significant move, which the city's Office of the Independent Monitor recommended this past March, echoing calls for a change that police-reform advocates have been making for years. Instead, officials simply placed a job listing for a "Director of Internal Affairs" online. (Access and read it below.)

Denver Sheriff Department communications director Daria Serna, corresponding via email, confirms that the Director of Internal Affairs position is civilian in nature. "The Department of Public Safety has a history of supporting the civilianization of positions in its sworn agencies that do not require law enforcement authority," she says. "This applies to the Director of Internal Affairs position as well, which was assessed and ultimately pursued."

Civilians have not always had a smooth road when it comes to inquiries at the jail. In 2014, Brent Miller, a civilian investigator, filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit against the DSD in regard to a case involving inmate Christopher Colbruno, who signed on to a suit of his own two years later.

The Colbruno matter got under way on the evening of May 4, 2015, and continued into the early hours of the following day, as his attorney, David Lane, noted in a previous Westword interview.

A booking photo of Christopher Colbruno.
A booking photo of Christopher Colbruno.
File photo

"Christopher Colbruno is severely mentally ill," Lane told us. "He's a prisoner with severe mental illness, and one of the manifestations of his mental illness is that he eats metal. He'd previously eaten a pen, and he was extremely self-destructive when he was in a psychotic episode."

On the night in question, Lane continued, "Colbruno was in his cell at the Denver city jail, and he dismantled a box filled with electronics that was in his cell for the purposes of opening the door. He began to eat the metal screws and wires, and when the deputies realized what he was doing, they took him to Denver Health. On his way, he soiled his pants, so they stripped him naked. But instead of going into Denver Health and getting a smock or a blanket, they decided that he was just a mentally ill inmate and paraded him through the entryway and all the way through Denver Health."

Indeed, his lawsuit, which is also linked below, maintains that Colbruno was still naked, except for a pair of orange mittens, when he was affixed to the bed in his hospital room with a belly chain and leg irons. Denver Health staffers soon reported what had happened, and Carmen Kassalty, the person in charge of managing the medical staff that works inside the DSD facility, shared their concerns with interim sheriff Elias Diggins and Captain Paul Ortega, both of whom are named in the complaint. Her e-mail stated, "Denver Health would like the DSD to review the fact the patient was completely naked" when brought to the hospital.

Ortega assigned Miller to look into the matter, the suit states. But after Miller found surveillance footage of Colbruno's naked trek, Ortega allegedly ordered him not to upload it because "they are making it go away; it’s not going to be a case," the lawsuit allows. The document adds: "Ortega explained that 'they' was the Interim Sheriff, Diggins. Ortega then ordered Miller to 'get rid of the video.'"

After fighting against this edict, Miller was fired. In his complaint, he cites the Colbruno dust-up and another similar conflict with superiors as the improper rationale for his dismissal.

"The Death of Michael Marshall: An Independent Review," issued by the office of Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell (it can be retrieved at the bottom of this post, too), argues that having the sheriff department in charge of investigating itself represents an inherent conflict of interest. And while Deputy Director of Safety Jess Vigil pushed back against plenty of other OIM suggestions, he stated in a letter to Westword that the Denver Sheriff Department was "open to examining and evaluating the benefits of civilianization" of the Internal Affairs Bureau.

That's what happened, notes the DSD's Serna. She credits Troy Riggs, who joined the Department of Public Safety as its executive director in February, with playing a major role in this process.

"Shortly after executive director Riggs was appointed, he and the sheriff [Patrick Firman, who succeeded Diggins in 2015] discussed civilianizing the position of Commander of Internal Affairs," Serna writes. "Following that conversation, the sheriff began discussing the potential move with staff and other stakeholders, including the OIM, and assessing the potential benefits of such a move. Ultimately, the sheriff decided to civilianize the position, which will be tasked with overseeing the bureau and its functions."

Serna adds: "Given Denver’s low unemployment rate, it’s important to evaluate positions that do not require law enforcement authority for potential civilianization. As the sheriff began looking at restructuring the department, he also considered which positions could be civilianized to address staffing needs and other operational considerations."

As for the potential benefits of making this a civilian spot, Serna offers this: "We believe the move will expand the candidate pool and increase the likelihood of securing the best person for the job. It will assist with staffing and other operational considerations, and performance measures for the position will be evaluated on a regularly basis."

She doesn't mention that a civilian Director of Internal Affairs might do a better job of holding deputies and other personnel responsible when and if their actions cause harm or worse to inmates or others. But that's obviously an outcome for which critics are hoping.

The late Marvin Booker.
The late Marvin Booker.
File photo

Here's the text from the job listing:

Director of Internal Affairs — Denver

City and County of Denver

Posting will close on Sunday, December 2, 2018. Hiring Range: $91,224-$145,958 Annually

The Denver Sheriff Department is the largest Sheriff Department agency in the state of Colorado and is comprised of many divisions and diverse operations with over 900 uniformed and non-uniformed staff members.

These operations include two separate jails, security for the District and County court systems, state inmate transportation, extradition duties, fugitive and K-9 units, a Community Corrections and Work Release facility, and security at Denver Health Medical Center.

The Denver Sheriff Department is a seeking a seasoned Director of Internal Affairs with strong experience in workplace investigations, to lead a team of employees in the Internal Affairs Bureau, tasked with investigating complaints regarding uniformed employees for alleged misconduct.

This position performs advanced-level professional work and manages complexity across a process spectrum of investigation to decision-making, with a variety of stakeholders, including but not limited to with the Department's operations groups, the Conduct Review Office, and the Office of the Independent Monitor.

The Director of Internal Affairs is responsible for ensuring the integrity of all internal investigations.

Job responsibilities will include: Works in collaboration to ensure the security of all confidential information that is maintained by the Internal Affairs Bureau.

Possesses final authority to categorize incoming complaints as Formal, Service or Declined investigations.

Assigns each case to individual investigators and clarifies rules and procedures.

Reviews all cases to ensure each is conducted competently, fairly, and without undue delay.

Responsible for notifying the Office of the Independent Monitor on specific incidents (notification responsibility may be delegated).

Prepares performance evaluations for Internal Affairs Bureau personnel.

May be subject to call-outs, at any time, and must have a cell phone available at all times.

Responsible for preparing Internal Affairs Bureau content noted in formal reports.

Determines training requirements for investigators assigned to the unit.

Coordinates, as necessary, activities with the Conduct Review Office and the Executive Director of Safety's Office.

Performs other related duties as assigned.

Our ideal candidate will have: Outstanding leadership, training, coaching, and mentoring skills, coupled with excellent written, interpersonal, and presentation skills

Proven expertise in employee relations, workplace investigations, classroom instruction, and determining disciplinary options

Exceptional employee service and communication skills with a team leader/player mind-set and demonstrated ability to develop and maintain outstanding employee/management/supervisory relationships

The ability to interact positively and professionally with people at all levels, including people with diverse backgrounds

Strong organizational and time management skills with the ability to arrange competing priorities in a fast-paced, results-based team environment with inflexible deadlines

Five years of experience conducting employee investigations, preferred

Prior experience with Internal Affairs investigations, preferred

Proficiency in Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint)

Click to access Christopher Colbruno v. Elias Diggins, et al. and "The Death of Michael Marshall: Independent Monitor Review."

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