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Independent monitor: Five Denver police officer-involved shootings still under review

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Just before the end of 2012, Nicholas Mitchell, Denver's new independent monitor, released his first report to the public, covering discipline cases at the police and sheriff's departments.

The document from the city's official watchdog, just the second person to hold the position, offers a glimpse into pending investigations of officer-involved shootings.

The Office of the Independent Monitor is responsible for monitoring investigations of police and sheriff personnel, writing reports and making recommendations to the city's manager of safety, chief of police and director of corrections regarding findings in discipline cases. The office also makes policy recommendations regarding police and sheriff operations.

The Denver Police Department has struggled with a negative image tied to police-brutality cases in recent years. And new leaders at the Denver Police Department and at the Department of Safety have pledged to improve the discipline process and work to restore faith in law enforcement, by more efficiently and effectively resolving cases and punishing officers who have committed acts of misconduct.

The "Police and Sheriff Discipline and Critical Incident Report," released on December 28 and on full view below, is the first from Mitchell, who was formerly a private attorney and also worked at the Civilian Complaint Review Board in New York City. Mayor Michael Hancock offered him the position over the summer, after a lengthy search. The report outlines discipline cases in the third quarter of 2012, which covers July through September, and offers updates on the ongoing investigations and reviews of officer-involved shootings and in-custody death cases.

According to the report, at the start of October, there were five different DPD officer-involved shootings with pending administrative reviews. Here's a quick summary of those cases:

April 22: An off-duty DPD officer was shot at by an individual in Aurora, and the officer returned fire. In the ensuing firefight, the individual shooting at the officer was killed, as was a bystander.

July 31: An arrested party slipped through his handcuffs and engaged in a physical altercation with an officer who was driving him to the police station for processing. Another officer in a different car saw the struggle and the arresting officer's car swerving in and out of his lane. The second officer went to assist and shot the arrestee, killing him.

August 28: Officers responded to a call of a suicidal individual with a firearm. The suspect pointed his firearm at the officers while they talked to him through a closed security door. When the suspect refused to lower his weapon, an officer fired several rounds. The suspect was wounded but survived.

September 7: Officers responded to a robbery in progress. Upon the officers' arrival, the suspects took a hostage and barricaded themselves into a store. The suspects fired shots at the officers, and one officer returned fire. Hours after the exchange of gunfire, the suspects surrendered. No one was hit or injured by the shots fired.

September 12: Officers responded to a domestic disturbance. During the initial contact, the suspect shot at the responding officers, who returned fire. The suspect then barricaded himself into a building. Hours later, officers took the suspect into custody. The suspect was not hit or injured by any shots fired.

Continue for more details from the report and the full document.

In all of the cases except the first involving the Aurora Plice Department, the DPD's Homicide Bureau has completed its investigation. All five cases will face reviews from the Use of Force Review Board, a DPD entity made up of several commanders and two civilians.

Also of note in the report: One officer-involved shooting was closed in the third quarter of 2012. In this case, officers responded to a call regarding a suicidal individual, who committed suicide immediately after verbal contact with officers. This April 19 case resulted in discipline for one officer "due to an accidental discharge of a less-lethal weapon away from the scene." The independent monitor concurred with the decision.

At the sheriff's department, one inmate death on September 29 is under review and another fatality case from February has been closed with no misconduct found; the inmate died of natural causes.

And from July through September, there were a total of 219 new complaints against the DPD, which include both internal and citizen complaints.

Here's the full report, which also includes details on the outcomes of internal affairs cases as well as highlighted commendations. Office of the Independent Monitor

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "At Greyhound rest stop, Lamar cops find "abnormally heavy" pillow filled with marijuana"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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