Derrick Saunders, Denver cop, unfired despite driving 143 MPH while drunk

Cynics who believe there's no fired Denver police officer the Civil Service Commission won't reappoint have a new example to cite as evidence they're right.

His name is Derrick Saunders, and the commission overturned the decision to sack him even though he pleaded guilty to driving 143 MPH while drunk.

As noted by 7News, the incident in question took place back in June 2010. Saunders earned a five-day jail sentence for his apparent attempt to set the land-speed record, which took place in a 55 MPH zone.

Denver Manager of Safety Alex Martinez gave Saunders the heave-ho for this behavior in December, but Saunders appealed the decision -- and the commission accepted his argument that his termination was unfair, maintaining that Martinez "failed to prove any extraordinary aggravation" and "also failed to consider...mitigating factors."

Like, perhaps, that Saunders wanted to get somewhere really fast and had heard that liquor is quicker? Close, but not quite. According to the Denver Post, Saunders was interested in seeing how speedy his car was, so he put it to the test. Unfortunately, he did so after visiting a bar.

This move hardly qualifies as surprising. Recall that last November, the CSC reinstated officers Randy Murr and Devin Sparks, sacked for beating Michael DeHerrera while he made a cellphone call and then lying about it. Next, the commission gave its collective blessing to officers David Torrez and Jose Palomares, who'd been told not to engage in a car chase but did anyhow, damaging their own vehicle in the process. And in January, the panel worked its magic on officers Kevin Devine and Ricky Nixon, jettisoned for alleged police brutality at the Denver Diner.

Nixon was also party to the pummeling of Alex Landau, who subsequently received a City of Denver payout of $779,000.

Martinez didn't meekly accept the commission's decision. He's asked for the CSC's order to be stayed -- an action that will keep Saunders out of uniform for at least a while longer -- in lieu of an appeal. Describing his reasoning, he wrote, "I believe this decision completely misinterprets the disciplinary code, undermines civilian authority to manage the police and uses the concept of consistent discipline to confine the department to the distant past, when courts punished drunk driving with small fines. We would never hire someone as a law enforcement officer who had engaged in this behavior."

Once a Denver police officer is hired, however, what line must he or she cross in order to have the commission back his dismissal? These days, there's little evidence that such a line exists.

Here's a larger look at Saunders's mug shot.

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More from our Shmuck of the Week archive: "Denver's Civil Service Commission should be fired along with bad cops."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts