In April, Alan Prendergast reported about Sgt. Perry Speelman, one of the defendants in a 2004 racial profiling lawsuit the city settled for $75,000. Tonight, Denver City Council will pay another $24,000 over similar allegations.
However, the ACLU's Mark Silverstein says the latest charge could have been avoided had the city simply been more forthcoming.
The roots of the case, as described in an ACLU internal affairs lawsuit filed this past April, stretch back to a February 2009 traffic stop involving Ashford Wortham and Cornelius Campbell, who complained that they were ticketed for minor traffic offenses as a result of racial profiling on the part of Speelman and two other officers.
"The complaint went to the internal-affairs bureau," notes Silverstein, "and Denver investigated, but concluded the charges couldn't be substantiated. So our clients went to county court, and after the court heard testimony from the officer and our clients, the judge threw out the traffic tickets and also made an extraordinary written finding that said the stop was racially motivated and made without reasonable suspicion and without probable cause."
Afterward, Wortham and Campbell tried to get the internal affairs records pertaining to Speelman, only to be turned down by Mary Dulacki, who oversees the Department of Safety's records office. "Basically," says Silverstein, "her rationale was that because the allegations against the officers weren't sustained over the course of the internal affairs investigation, their right to privacy outweighed the public's right to see these documents."
That didn't wash with Wortham and Campbell. They subsequently went to the ACLU, which filed the April complaint linked above on their behalf. This action led to a June 2010 court date, but just before the session could take place, the City of Denver decided to give the ACLU the documents in question -- and to pay the $24,000 in attorneys fees racked up due to the decision not to fork them over in the first place.
This isn't the first time the ACLU has come out on top when it comes to internal records lawsuits targeting the DPD. By Silverstein's count, the latest suit was the sixth the organization has filed, and it's won each of them.
The settlement "doesn't necessarily set a precedent for other cases," Silverstein points out. "So we'll have to see if the Denver Police Department will be more responsive in the future. But certainly, the DPD doesn't have a good history when it comes to issues of transparency."
Maybe $24,000 in taxpayer dollars that didn't need to be spent will help the department improve its record in the future.
As for Speelman, the ACLU hasn't filed a lawsuit against him for Wortham and Campbell, but Silverstein doesn't rule one out. In his words, "We're still talking to our clients."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.