Police brutality: Independent monitor says chokeholding Denver cop deserved to be fired

The firing of two Denver cops over the Michael DeHerrera beating. The sacking of two more officers for billy-clubbing and macing at the Denver Diner. The $795,000 payout to brutality victim Alexander Landau. The bad PR keeps coming for the Denver Police Department. The latest? Two more officers Independent Monitor Richard Rosenthal thinks were punished too lightly, including one who assaulted volunteer firefighter Jared Lunn.

Lunn and his attacker, Officer Eric Sellers, were first named by 9News. But while the Office of the Independent Monitor's 2011 first quarter report, on view below, doesn't use their monikers, it contains plenty of vivid detail.

On December 28, 2009, the report says an officer (Sellers) was working off-duty in a LoDo bar when a complainant (Lunn) told him a man had punched him in the face and thrown his pizza on the ground. The officer responded by telling Lunn to leave because he was drunk.

As he headed to a friend's car in response to this order, Lunn said something to the effect of, "A job well done." To that, according to Lunn's pal, Sellers replied, "Oh, you want to play that way, motherfucker," grabbed Lunn from behind and put him in a chokehold. Sellers then took Lunn to the ground, handcuffed him and taunted him for several minutes as a "pussy" and a "faggot." Lunn was only allowed to leave after he apologized.

For these actions, and for lying about them afterward, former Manager of Safety Ron Perea handed Sellers a 45-day suspension that was eventually whittled down to forty days due to a series of technicalities.

Rosenthal's take: Sellers should have been fired, period. And he also feels a Sheriff's captain identified by 9News as Cheryl Arabalo should have been demoted to deputy, rather than getting a seventy-day suspension from then-Manager of Safety Mary Malatesta's office, for a lie of her own. According to the OIM report, she falsely claimed to have completed a July 14, 2010 review to ensure that rounds at the Denver County Jail were being conducted and documented following what's described as a "high-profile in-custody death where it was determined that Sheriff Deputies were not conducting rounds as required by policy and procedure." Presumably, the incident in question involved Marvin Booker, who died in the jail on July 9. The Denver District Attorney declined to file charges in Booker's death; a lawsuit is currently pending in the case.

Rosenthal only has the power to make recommendations, and in a Denver Post article today, police union president Nick Rogers shrugged off his takes, claiming that he "is entitled to his opinion, but no one else ever seems to take his side."

That might have been true at one point. However, current Manager of Safety Charley Garcia fired the officers in the Michael DeHerrera and Denver Diner cases mentioned above, even though the incidents took place during previous watches.

While Rosenthal typically steers clear of commenting on the actions of safety managers, he concedes that "I have not published any criticism of Charley Garcia's disciplinary actions." He adds that Garcia "has made decisions on some significant cases, and I agreed with his decisions. I agreed that they were reasonable and appropriate and appreciated how he evaluated the cases and made his decision."

Does it bother him that he can only issue recommendations, as opposed to vetoing decisions with which he disagrees?

"I'm not frustrated at all," he stresses, "because that's not my role. I'm not supposed to be in charge of the department. The manager of safety is supposed to be in charge of the department. My role is to monitor and publicly report, and it's an important role. But it would not be appropriate for me to be the decision-maker, because I'm not the officers' employer. I am an independent monitor."

He adds that "I very strongly believe in this program and the way it works. I like to say my recommendations generally are followed because of the powers of persuasion I have -- and I make good recommendations. They're logical, they're based on the extensive experience I have in internal affairs and law enforcement, and more often than not, I agree with the manager's decisions -- or the manager agrees with me."

Clearly, the cases of Sellers and Arabalo represent exceptions to that rule -- thus far, anyhow. Look below to see the 9News package on the cases, followed by the complete OIM 2011 first quarter report:

Denver Office of the Independent Monitor 2011 1st Quarter Report

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Michael DeHerrera beating: Officers Devin Sparks & Randy Murr fired by 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