Occupy Denver: Independent monitor criticizes police, Department of Safety over protest tactics

Occupy Denver may no longer be making headlines, but at least one city official is still talking about the protesters -- specifically law enforcement's role in a violent confrontation. A recent report from the Office of the Independent Monitor, the city's official watchdog, says Denver Police and the Department of Safety should have done more to review their tactics after a situation when officers and civilians faced great risks.

In response, the manager of safety argues that Denver did better than most cities that faced Occupy Wall Street protests.

As we reported last month, the most recent OIM report -- the first ever from Nicholas Mitchell, the independent monitor selected over the summer -- offers an update on the status of officer-involved shootings under investigation, among other details about the DPD and the Denver Sheriff's Department.

The independent monitor is charged with keeping an eye on investigations of police and sheriff personnel, writing reports and making recommendations to the heads of those departments, as well as the city's manager of safety.

In a section Mitchell titled "Missed Opportunity For In-Depth Tactics Review," the independent monitor describes the challenge that Occupy Denver posed for law enforcement in the city in the fall of 2011.

He focuses his attention on October 29, one of Occupy Denver's most violent days, in which many were arrested and several ended up in the hospital. One protester was shot in the face with pepper bullets.

Mitchell writes:

On the afternoon of October 29, 2011, Denver Police responded to Civic Center Park to provide security during and after an Occupy Denver march and rally. A highly-energized crowd was erecting tents in Civic Center Park in violation of municipal ordinance. Officers were faced with a difficult decision -- whether to immediately engage members of the crowd to ensure that the tents come down, risking confrontation -- or wait and allow the crowd to disperse before enforcing that ordinance.

The decision was made to immediately address the ordinance violations, and a small group of officers made verbal requests that the tents be dismantled. Although officers made these requests for voluntary compliance, many were outfitted with helmets and other riot gear, which sometimes provokes crowd response. Many demonstrators became physically aggressive, and there were confrontations between protesters and police. The small group of officers was surrounded, and DPD issued an emergency citywide call for additional police assistance. Officers deployed O.C. spray and pepperballs, among other less than-lethal force options, to maintain a perimeter or skirmish line. Several civilians were injured during the ensuing melee, and many in the crowd were affected by the O.C. spray and struck with pepperballs, including one civilian struck in the face.

Continue for more of the independent monitor's criticisms.
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Sam Levin
Contact: Sam Levin

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