Eight times in recent years, members of the Denver Police Department and Denver Sheriff Department have been investigated for alleged misuse of social media. The inquiries have led to departmental discipline and multiple resignations.
The most prominent case involves Bethany Candelaria, who abruptly left her new job in communications and marketing for the Denver Sheriff Department last December after KNUS radio hosts Julie Hayden and Chuck Bonniwell shared controversial posts from her Facebook page, including one that read, "Go F*ck Yourselves, America."
But as evidenced by DPD and DSD documents obtained via a Colorado Open Records Act request, other law enforcers got into trouble by, among other things, casting aspersions on the former police chief and allegedly using Facebook to spark a hookup with a former inmate who wound up 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.
The Denver Police Department's social-media policy includes a section labeled "Precautions and Prohibitions." These are its main three provisions:
1. Department personnel are free to express themselves as private citizens on social media sites to the degree that their speech and expression does not impair working relationships with this department for which loyalty and confidentiality are important, impede the performance of their duties, impair harmony among coworkers, adversely impact the disciplinary process, or negatively affect the public perception of the department, or any other city agency.
2. As public employees, department personnel are cautioned that speech, on — and off — duty, made pursuant to their official duties — that is, that owes its existence to the employee's professional duties and responsibilities — is not protected speech under the First Amendment and may form the basis for discipline, if deemed detrimental to the department.
3. Department personnel will not post, transmit or otherwise disseminate any information to which they have access as a result of their employment or public materials that could reasonably be considered to represent the views or position of this department without written permission from the Chief of Police.
Here's what happened to the men and women accused of violating such edicts:
Denver Police Officer Daniel Veith
In 2012, Officer Veith was celebrated at a Denver Police Foundation luncheon for donating a kidney to a fellow officer in need, an act that earned him the DPD's Medal of Honor. But in 2016, he experienced a far less enthusiastic reception over two Facebook comments.
The departmental order of disciplinary action notes that the first post "referred to the DPD, and the second one...contained a reference to the DPD Daily Bulletin" in the context of Veith's opinions about "the statistical relationship between race and crime."
What, precisely, Veith wrote isn't contained in the document. But the order points out that "the DPD Daily Bulletin is distributed to law enforcement personnel and contains information about persons who are wanted for law violations. The Daily Bulletin states that it is 'For Use by Law Enforcement Personnel Only.'"
Moreover, Veith is said to have overshared on Facebook once before, "by posting an article and comment...questioning the leadership ability of the current DPD administration."
As such, Veith was assessed "two fined days."
Denver Police Officer Damian Phillips
On September 23, 2016, according to a disciplinary report issued the following January, Officer Phillips "shared on image on Facebook depicting a bloody vehicle with a severed hand on the hood accompanied by the caption, 'I don't know what you mean by protesters on the freeway. I came through with no problem.'"
This pic prompted a complaint from a Facebook friend of Phillips's girlfriend. When confronted about it by superiors, he initially argued that "he did not believe the photo depicted behavior that could be considered 'reckless or irresponsible' because 'the photo is satirical in nature [and] is meant for humor (it's called a MEME), not to be depicted as a true or real photo.' Similarly, Officer Phillips indicated that he did not consider that the posting of the photo could have a negative effect on the department's image since the picture was fake."
He later reconsidered these arguments, acknowledging "that it was a mistake to post the photo on Facebook," and he "apologized for doing so."
This "I'm sorry" didn't result in Phillips skating. Because he'd had another misconduct violation in the previous four years (he'd violated security-screenings procedures at the Denver Justice Center on one occasion), he was penalized with five fined days.
Officer Daniel Politica
Politica previously appeared in Westword in relation to the 2009 beating of college student Alex Landau; he arrived at the scene after the abuse was under way and claimed he'd seen Landau's reaching for a cop's gun. The three officers accused of doing the pummeling were never disciplined, but Landau received $975,000 to settle the case.
Later, in October 2015, Politica was suspended for ten days and lost six vacation days for getting into a drunken fight with a LoDo street performer.
Cut to November 2016, when Politica allegedly got into a Facebook dialogue with Brian Matsoukas, who told investigators that while online, the officer "called me a 'faggot' and threatened to 'crush my skull.' [H]e also intimated that he would use his position to harass and intimidate me."
Once he figured out that Phillips was a police officer and found a reference to the October case, however, Matsoukas maintained that "he kind of deleted everything."
For his part, Phillips denied Matsoukas's allegations, and another witness couldn't recall the specifics of the conversation, which no one had preserved via screen captures. As such, the assertions against him were found to be "not sustained."
Officer Scott Murphy
In March 2016, Officer Murphy made a splash by way of a scorching resignation letter that slammed the DPD's leadership under Chief Robert White.
In response, the DPD noted that Murphy had been the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation, but hadn't revealed the reason for the probe. Turns out it involved Facebook and a photo of White.
On December 8, 2015, the Internal Affairs Bureau's case investigation summary report reveals, Murphy responded to the scene of an officer-involved shooting. White showed up later, and he didn't appear to be wearing what is referred to in the document as his "duty belt," to which a sidearm is generally attached. Seeing this, Murphy took a photo of White and shared it on Facebook in a way the report suggests was intended to "embarrass the chief and/or the department."
In an interview with Murphy, an investigator is quoted as asking him, "Are you aware of the policy that states lieutenants and above that are not assigned to patrol do not have to wear the standard duty belt?" Murphy's reply: "No."
In the end, Murphy didn't receive any departmental discipline — because he quit before any could be dispensed.
At the time, by the way, Murphy played guitar in a band called Checkered Past.
Denver Sheriff Department Captain Kenneth Juranek
A former Facebook friend of Juranek issued a complaint to the Office of the Independent Monitor. According to the complaint, the ex-pal contended that "since Donald Trump became president, he has noticed Captain Juranek's postings and comments in social media contain negative comments about African-Americans, gays and Hispanic people" that he felt encouraged "hatred and discontent."
When interviewed by a member of the Denver Sheriff Department Internal Affairs Bureau, as documented in a case summary, the former friend pointed to a post about quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who became a topic of national discussion after he started kneeling during the national anthem. Kaepernick later found himself without a job, and Juranek posted that "no one would want him anyway" — a remark the ex-friend saw as derogatory toward African-Americans.
Other claims were less specific, but the former friend admitted that Juranek had never used racial slurs or the like. He called him "very politically correct," but contended that his intent was obvious.
The IAB investigator subsequently reviewed the material on Juranek's Facebook page and confirmed that the captain and his friends' postings and comments "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. Additionally, some postings and comments...supported enforcement of immigration laws and expressed support for immigration reform and protection of U.S. borders that some people with differing views might find insensitive. However, there were no explicitly derogatory or discriminatory comments regarding Hispanics as a race or ethnicity."
Moreover, Juranek's page didn't mention his position with the sheriff's department. As a result, the report's author wrote, "No violations...were identified," and he received no discipline.
Deputy Anna Romero
In March 2018, the Denver Police Department passed along a complaint about Deputy Romero from a man identified as a victim in a crime allegedly committed by jail inmate Kirk Bovie. The man said he'd learned the deputy had used her personal Facebook Messenger account to contact Bovie's son. She requested the son's phone number and said she'd pass it along to Bovie so that he could contact him.
The Denver District Attorney's Office concluded that this action didn't qualify as witness-tampering — after which the Internal Affairs Bureau opened an investigation.
During an interview with the IAB investigator, Romero admitted that she'd reached out to Bovie's son on the inmate's behalf. "I thought I was doing a good deed by letting an inmate have contact with his family," she said.
Problem is, the outreach violated a departmental rule in regard to "prohibited associations." Romero resigned from the department before she could be disciplined.
Deputy David Quintana
In January 2018, a former inmate at the main Denver jail issued a complaint to the Denver Police Department Internal Affairs Bureau against Quintana. She alleged that after her incarceration, the deputy "sought her profile on Facebook, sent her photographs in and out of uniform and initiated an intimate relationship which led to a pregnancy."
In an interview with an investigator, the woman said Quintana had contacted her while she was still in custody, and upon her release, she had a Facebook message from him. The two later engaged in consensual sex, but after she told him she was pregnant, he cut her off. Unlike the person who said Officer Politica had threatened to crush his skull, she had screen captures to back up her assertions, including an early exchange in which she asked him, "Who is this?," and he responded, "If I tell you, can you keep a secret?"
For his part, Quintana insisted that he'd met the woman downtown, not in the jail, and thought she was faking her pregnancy. He also denied that he had a Facebook account — but his attempt to move on romantically led to more difficulties. The report about Quintana divulges that in early 2018, he "received informal counseling...regarding an inappropriate pursuit of a relationship with a Denver Health employee."
Quintana resigned before he could be disciplined.
Denver Sheriff Department employee Bethany Candelaria
Candelaria resigned so quickly after her Facebook posts were publicized by KNUS talk-show hosts Hayden and Bonniwell that no formal investigation into her actions was started. In lieu of a report, Denver authorities supplied a letter from Deputy Sheriff Captain Frank H. Rolando to Sheriff Patrick Firman, dated November 30 and supplemented by sample posts mostly from 2015 to 2018 — some politically partisan attacks on President Donald Trump, others not.
The letter begins like so:
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Hello Sheriff Firman,
I would like to bring a difficult matter to your attention, only assuming that you don’t know about a problem that is brewing with staff at the County Jail, and gaining steam. Officers at the County Jail are angered that Bethany Candelaria has been hired to represent the Denver Sheriff Department as the Communications/Marketing Professional.
It looks like the posts seen below are from Ms. Candelaria’s Facebook page. If this is not a case of mistaken identity, then the reason for the officer’s anger is because of the many racial posts on Bethany’s Facebook page, to include a profile picture of gang graffiti signifying that gang members of the Surenos should be killed, as interpreted with an “X” through the graffiti. Officers are not contesting an individuals right to Freedom of Speech, they are contesting the hate against religion, race and the blatant disrespect toward authority.
Some of the quotes from Brittany Frisbie Candelaria’s Facebook pages are as follows:
1. Go f*ck yourselves, Texas.
2. Hey Honkeys, worth a read on your white privileges.
3. Aw, poor little honkeys have it so bad.
4. Feeling enraged by Trumpleforeskin? There’s still a lot of good out there.
5. I enjoy offending white people. It’s just so easy.
6. Go f*ck yourselves, America.
7. One would think a resurrection would be more important than a birthday, but we’re not going all nuts for Easter are we?
8. I’m kind of feeling like Easter should be held on April 1 every year. Dude pulled off the greatest prank ever 2,000 + years ago and people are still falling for it.
Rolando concludes: "If the following posts are from Ms. Candelaria’s facebook account, it is my opinion that they violate the Social Media Department Order. I realize that Ms. Candelaria was not an employee of the Denver Sheriff Department at the time of these posts, but these posts should have been identified prior to her appointment. This is important, because I understand that Labor Unions within the DSD are aware, and I think you should be in the know before a storm hits."
Shortly thereafter, one did.