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

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Rathod's firm also collected depositions from former Internal Monitor Richard Rosenthal and ex-Manager of Safety Charlie Garcia, "who talk about problems within the internal affairs bureau and how they fail to properly investigate cases, how they're improperly trained and use leading questions that suggest answers. And they also talk about the Civil Service Commission," which determines whether fired officers should stay fired, "and how it's resulted in a culture that encourages officers to, in essence, engage in improper conduct, because when one officers sees he's not going to get disciplined for that kind of conduct, others will be encouraged to engage in that same conduct."

Not that Garcia and Rosenthal paint the DPD as guilty in every instance. At one point in his deposition, also on view below, Garcia says, "I never saw that there was any sort of general pattern of any particular -- what I saw was differing definitions of excessive force, and that is -- that makes it very difficult."

However, Garcia was more definitive in another exchange:

Q. As the former manager of safety, when you were reviewing excessive force cases, did you observe a pattern of officers failing to report or failing to fully report fellow Denver police officers' use of excessive force?

A. I did.

Garcia also suggested that excessive force was almost twenty years in the making in this observation:

Let me give you my personal opinion. Acceptance of past practices, which were certainly not best practices. I firmly believed that the summer of '93 [also known as the Summer of Violence] caused the Denver Police Department to begin some pretty heavy handed tactics to try to clean up the gang problem in Denver. And to a large extent a lot of the officers that came out of that period of time continue to use those heavy handed practices in situations where they weren't warranted.

As for Rosenthal, he's extremely critical of the police department in the following statement from his own deposition, shared below.

And what I saw was a -- I had great concerns because most of these cases were reported by people who had already been told by supervisors the officers had a right to do what they did, and yet they continued to push. And we knew that there would be -- we were concerned it was the tip of the iceberg, that there were all these other cases out there where people were convinced by supervisors that officers had gone in lawfully and they had not, but they never made a complaint. The only way anybody ever found out about this was through a citizen complaint in the vast majority of the cases. So I was concerned about a pattern and practice of violating people's rights in entries into residences.

I was also concerned specifically about the use-of-force cases, the lack of integrity in the investigation of the use-of-force cases, and the refusal from the Internal Affairs Bureau or the department to follow up online during the course of these cases. We call it in the department departing from the truth or commission of a deceptive act.

And what I saw, again, was this potential systemic problem where officers were permitted to use inappropriate force on the street, were not held accountable, would lie to Internal Affairs about it and, again, were not held accountable.

What I saw was a manager of safety who reacted very negatively to my report, my final report, where I publicly reported that was happening, who seemed to have no interest in fixing the problem. Frankly, had he simply said, "I understand the concerns of the Monitor, I share the concerns, and I'm dedicated to ensuring that the -- that this gets fixed," I would not have called for Department of Justice investigation.

In addition, Rathod highlights a report offered by Dan Montgomery, former Westminster police chief, which was commissioned by the plaintiffs. "It's a long report, and mostly it talks about this case," Rathod says. "But the end of it talks about custom, policy and practice, and what he calls Denver's 'cowboy sub-culture.'"

Page down to read the "cowboy sub-culture" excerpt:
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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