This morning, the Office of the Independent Monitor, charged with overseeing and evaluating the actions of the Denver Police Department and the Denver County Sheriff's Office, issued its annual report. We'll be digging into the complete document in a separate post. But first, we'd like to focus on a single paragraph -- one that recounts the arrest of Patricia Lucero, who was left bloodied in an encounter with Denver cops. The monitor recommended that one officer be disciplined for her actions, but the Manager of Safety's Office disagreed.
Update: Here's the statement from the Manager of Safety's Office regarding its decision not to impose discipline on the officer in question, sent to Westword following the publication of this post:
"The Chief considered and determined what he believed to be the appropriate discipline in this matter. Pursuant to the City Charter, a reprimand is a disciplinary order the Chief is authorized to issue, which does not require an independent review by our office. Per established and agreed upon processes between our office and the Independent Monitor, in the instance where the Monitor disagrees with the Chief's decision, the Monitor makes a formal request in writing to the Safety Department for an official review of the disciplinary decision. At no time did the Monitor make such a request related to the [Officer Marika] Putnam matter. In light of the discipline that was imposed per the authority of the Chief and in the absence of the noted request by the Monitor, the Chief's Order of discipline stood. Had a request for official review by the Monitor been received by the Safety Department, it would have engaged in a review to determine whether the Chief's disciplinary decision was reasonable."
Update two: After publishing the Manger of Safety's Office statement, we heard from Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell, who took exception to some claims. His response reads:
The Manager of Safety's Office released a statement indicating that it did not review the DPD's decision to exonerate the involved officer, as the OIM never asked it to examine the case. This is not accurate. On June 25, July 3, July 5, and again on August 30, I sent written communications to the Deputy Manager of Safety expressing my disagreement with the DPD's proposed handling of the case, and recommending to the Manager that discipline be imposed consistent with the OIM's position. The Manager of Safety's Office also participated in meetings with the OIM and DPD Command staff regarding this case on July 9 and August 30 in which the OIM made formal disciplinary recommendations. In those same meetings, the Manager of Safety's Office articulated its position on the disciplinary outcome for the involved officer.
The original post continues....
The report arrives against the backdrop of criticism aimed at OIM and monitor Nicholas Mitchell by the Reverend Reginald C. Holmes, pastor of New Covenant Christian Church Alpha and Omega Ministries, and a past president of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance.
In a column for the Colorado Independent, Holmes writes about a recent meeting between Alliance members and city officials in regard to an incident, also reported by the Independent, during which Deputy Brady Lovingier was caught on video slamming African-American inmate Anthony Waller into a wall. Here's the clip:
Amid Holmes's complaints about the city's tardy response to Lovingier's actions (it took a year for him to be disciplined), he suggests that OIM lacks teeth. "The one safety net built into the system should be the Office of the Independent Monitor, which was set up to watchdog city safety officials," he writes. "But in practice, that office shows little true independence, but rather mirrors the administration's lack of commitment to ending misconduct."
In response, Mitchell, who typically lets OIM reports speak for him, shared a statement with Westword that refutes the contention that his office lacks independence and points to the Lucero matter as an example of how its discipline recommendations aren't always accepted.
The references to the incident in the report (it appears on page twenty) are generic. Lucero isn't named, nor are time, date or place information provided.
The passage states that two officers were called to an apartment in response to a 911 hang-up call. Upon their arrival, they encountered Lucero, who is said to have been intoxicated.
The officers subsequently decided to take Lucero into protective custody for detoxification, but after she was handcuffed, she "attempted to step towards and yell at her boyfriend multiple times," the report states. In response, one of the officers "maneuvered the woman head-first towards walls in a manner that risked serious injury."
This statement is underscored by photos provided by the Manager of Safety's Office. The majority of them show evidence at the scene, including images of bloodstains like this one....
...and this one: But others capture the damage done to Lucero herself -- most graphically this shot: Additional images depict Lucero following treatment.
Continue to see more photos of Patricia Lucero after her encounter with police, and get additional information about the incident. This photo shows the laceration Lucero suffered on her head....
...while this one.... ...and this one.... ...show bruising to her arm.
The OIM report notes that "when taking individuals into protective custody, officers have an affirmative obligation to 'make every reasonable effort to protect the detainee's health and safety.'" The monitor determined this mission wasn't accomplished when it came to Lucero and "recommended that the officer whose actions led to her injuries be disciplined for using inappropriate force and failing to protect a detainee who was handcuffed and otherwise vulnerable."
However, the report goes on, "the Manager of Safety's Office did not accept our recommendation." In the end, the officer did receive a reprimand from Denver Police Chief Robert White, but only for "failing to maintain certification on the use of police nunchucks." Otherwise, "no further disciplinary action was taken," the report states.
Monitor Mitchell elaborated in a statement via e-mail. In response to Reverend Holmes's criticism, he asserts that "the OIM has a strong history of independent decisions and reports, which includes our recent investigation into the process for handling inmate complaints within Denver's Jails." However, he adds that "the OIM's enabling ordinance only gives us the authority to make recommendations on cases, not final decisions."
He also alludes to the Lucero case, noting that "in this report, I discuss an incident that the OIM believed involved a DPD officer using inappropriate force and failing to protect a person who was being taken into DPD's protective custody. The OIM recommended that the officer be disciplined for this conduct, but that recommendation was not accepted by the DPD or the Manager of Safety's Office.
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"We will continue to provide independent oversight of Department of Safety disciplinary decisions, and work to promote accountability and transparency in the DPD and the DSD," he states.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
More from our News archive circa January 2011: "Alexander Landau got pulled over for an illegal left turn -- and ended up beaten bloody."