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Police brutality: Denver department tolerates "cowboy sub-culture," documents claim

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The origins of the affidavits can be traced to police brutality cases involving Jason Graber and James Moore, both of whom claim they suffered excessive force at the hands of Denver police officers. David Lane, the attorney for both of them, targeted Denver in these cases, asking for access to excessive-force complaints over an eight year period to show why the city should be a party to the suits. Denver subsequently settled the Graber matter for $225,000, but the Moore case remains active -- and in February, Lane confirmed he had received the excessive-force information. In the months since then, his firm, in conjunction with Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC, which is handling the Denver Diner case, worked in concert to collect affidavits by people involved. They ultimately gathered 29 of them, which Rathod Mohamedbhai's Siddhartha Rathod describes as "a small fraction" of alleged victims in incidents that often received little or no media attention.

"We identified individuals who have been victims of police brutality," Rathod continues, "and victims who had difficulty with the internal affairs process. These were people who filed charges of excessive force by police officers, or police officers lying, and then the internal affairs bureau would either ignore them or whitewash any investigation."

Among the affidavits is one by Westword contributor Britt Chester, identified under his given name, Jonathan Chester. In January 2011, Chester wrote in this space about getting into a confrontation with a cop after nearly being hit by a car. There's also the tale of Max Ford, which fits the parameters Rathod outlines above.

At about 1:30 a.m. on a July 2007 evening, according to Ford's affidavit, he and his girlfriend were leaving Herb's Hideout when they saw several police cars with their lights on parked next to their vehicle, with officers pointing their weapons at a vehicle they'd stopped. Because the activity prevented them from getting to their car, they waited against a wall -- at least until one of the cops allegedly grabbed his girlfriend by the face and shoved her to the ground before roughly handcuffing Ford.

These actions reportedly caused Ford's girlfriend to have a panic attack marked by gagging and spitting -- after which a female officer is said to have slammed her against a pole while declaring that the spitting was disrespectful. "Not only did they arrest us for nothing, they assaulted and mocked us," Ford says in the affidavit.

The pair were arrested for obstruction of justice and disobeying a lawful order, prompting Ford to complain to internal affairs. But when filing the report, he felt like the investigator tried to intimidate him into dropping the matter. States Ford: "It really seemed like officers at lAB were on the same side as the officers who wrongfully arrested us. It was basically like talking to the same officers who had assaulted us and charged us with crimes we didn't commit." He adds that the incident made him want to move out of Denver.

Such tales are intended to prove that "Denver should be a party in this case," Rathod says. For a judge to agree, "we have to show a custom, policy and practice" of excessive force and other sins, "and one way to do that is to show that Denver tolerates police brutality -- that Denver fails to discipline its police officers, that Denver fails to investigate its police officers who've been alleged to have engaged in inappropriate conduct."

Page down to read statements by Denver's former Independent Monitor and Manager of Safety.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts