After two police officers fired for the 2009on-camera beating of Michael DeHerrera
were reinstated to their jobs, we spoke to Anthony DeHerrera, Michael's father and a law enforcement veteran, about his displeasure with the decision. His words are echoed by Michael himself, who calls the move "shocking. It seems like they've used every loophole to their advantage, and they continue to do so."
Michael says he got the news about the reinstatement of Officer Devin Sparks and Corporal Randy Murr, who can be seen in a video below attacking DeHerrera while he used a cell phone, from his father.
As for Anthony, he received a heads-up from Richard Rosenthal, the city's Independent Monitor. Rosenthal declined to comment on the turn of events when contacted by Westword, as we noted in our post about Mayor Michael Hancock's decision to appeal the reinstatement.
The ruling "caught me off-guard," Michael admits. "I was really surprised and very confused as to what exactly was going on. It kind of came out of nowhere." He knew Sparks and Murr had appealed their sacking, but action by the Denver Civil Service Commission "kept getting postponed. So I didn't think this would happen when it did, or happen in this way," with the commission determining that because Sparks and Murr had accepted an initial three-day suspension imposed by then-Manager of Safety Ron Perea, their subsequent canning constituted double jeopardy.
The officers have been assigned desk jobs, and Michael thinks that's appropriate. "They've made wrong decisions on the street before, and I don't think they should be entitled to make those decisions again," he maintains. Still, he adds, "I would assume any of the outstanding cops at the Denver Police Department wouldn't want them on staff, because it will essentially make them look bad, too."
He would have never guessed the case would drag out for so long -- well over two years at this point. "I knew it would be a long process," he concedes, "but everything seemed so clear. The video speaks for itself, so we thought everything was laid out for things to happen smoothly and efficiently. But we've gone through two internal affairs investigations and so many appeals. And when things go on like this, some people give up and go away. They don't want to deal with it anymore. They want to get back to their lives; they lose hope and don't see any chance for a positive outcome."
He's had similar thoughts at times, "but I have great people behind me, who encourage me and help me refocus on what happened. And there need to be changes, so it doesn't happen to anybody else."
Regarding the reinstatement itself, Michael thinks supporters of Sparks and Murr are "just trying to make excuses," he allows. "It's clear there was lying in the case, and there was obviously excessive force. They just found another loophole, where they think they're getting vindication from the ruling. But no one's saying they didn't lie, and no one's saying they didn't use excessive force. And that's what we need to keep the focus on."
With that in mind, Michael plans to cooperate with a Department of Justice inquiry into the incident -- get more details below -- and will keep speaking out. "it's very discouraging that this is the current state of the case," he says. "But hopefully this is just a minor setback, and we'll see the right results again soon."
Read our earlier coverage below.
Original item, 8:50 a.m. September 7: Anthony DeHerrera has been through plenty of ups and downs since the police beating of Michael DeHerrera, his son. First, a decision was made not to fire the two officers involved in the incident. Then, the pair was sacked. And now, they've been reinstated by the Denver Civil Service Commission.
DeHerrera's response? "We're sick about it," he says.
The incident at the heart of the situation took place in April 2009. As can be seen in the video on view below, DeHerrera appears to simply be speaking on a cell phone when Officer Devin Sparks begins hammering at him, apparently without provocation. The High Activity Location Observation camera, part of the city's HALO system, also captures Corporal Randy Murr joining in the action.
The investigation into the matter dragged on and on. Then, in August 2010, Denver Manager of Safety Ron Perea determined that Sparks and Murr should be suspended for three days without pay but not fired -- a conclusion so controversial that Perea resigned. This past March, then-Manager of Safety Charley Garcia fired Sparks and Murr. However, they appealed the decision, and the commission sided with them. The reason, according to 9News, is that the cops had already accepted Perea's punishment, making Garcia's move to sack them for the same offense the equivalent of double jeopardy.
In a statement, interim Manager of Safety Ashley Kilroy said she supported Garcia's decision to can Sparks and Murr. We've e-mailed the office of Mayor Michael Hancock for a comment about the possibility of appealing the decision. If and when we receive a response, we'll update this post.
For his part, Anthony DeHerrera, who spent more than two decades as a deputy in Pueblo, has plenty to say. He calls the decision to reinstate the officers "very disappointing. It's a blow to the citizens of Denver in general."
Nick Rogers, president of the Police Protective Association, feels differently, telling 9News that Sparks and Murr never deserved termination in the first place. This claim upsets DeHerrera. "He's trying to make it seem like the cops are innocent, and that's why they got their job back," he maintains. "But this is in no way saying they're innocent. It's saying Ron Perea's very bad decision is the one that needs to be held up."
Regarding the double-jeopardy argument, DeHerrera says he understands the reasoning behind it "to a point, but not totally, because they never served their suspension. And Ron Perea reopened the investigation before he resigned, so I don't see how they could see it as Charles Garcia overturning the decision."
Thus far, Michael DeHerrera hasn't returned a call for comment -- but Anthony says "he's upset -- and he's ready to fight again. We've been fighting this for two-and-a-half years, and we're not going to stop now. The union says they're in it to the bitter end, and so are we."
News that the officers will be working desk jobs for now doesn't placate DeHerrera. "They shouldn't have a badge or a gun," he stresses. "They should be in jail. Anybody else would have been in jail."
Now, he's pinning his hopes on a possible appeal by the city attorney and an ongoing investigation by other agencies. "I talked to the FBI two weeks ago. They finally got all the files from the Denver Police Department after all this time, if you can believe that, and they've passed it on to the Department of Justice. They're looking into a possible civil-rights violation."
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Meanwhile, the reversal of fortune is "very frustrating, especially with me being in law enforcement for 23 years," he goes on. "It's amazing, just amazing the amount of corruption going on over there."
Look below to see a Denver Post video of the April 2009 beating.
More from our News archive: "Alexander Landau got pulled over for an illegal left turn -- and ended up beaten bloody."