Local high school students will be protesting outside of Greenwood Village City Hall at 4 p.m. today, July 9.
Greenwood Village City Council just attempted an end-run around Colorado's new police reform law, passing a resolution declaring that the city will defend its police officers and cover their legal costs connected to any lawsuits brought under SB-217, a sweeping bipartisan police accountability and reform bill passed by the Colorado Legislature last month. The new law includes a provision that creates up to $25,000 in personal civil liability for law enforcement officers when an employer determines that the officer acted in bad faith or knew that what they were doing was illegal; the council move would pick up the tab for that.
"That’s a huge step back to remove any personal officer liability and kind of take an officer’s skin back out of the game that was put into the game," says Ramsey Headrick, an eighteen-year-old senior at Cherry Creek High School who is organizing the protest. Headrick, who marched in recent civil-rights protests in both Denver and Aurora calls council's the move "fascistic" and "pretty disgusting."
Council reps in the wealthy south Denver suburb take a very different view of their action.
"I think it goes well beyond showing support for our officers, which we all believe and want to do," Councilman Dave Bullock said before the resolution was approved unanimously on July 6. "I think it also sends a message to, really, the community, the state, the country, that we have a very different attitude toward law enforcement and the rule of law in Greenwood Village. ... We are supporting the rule of law and basically sending a message to our residents that, if you live in this community, our officers are going to do all they can to keep you safe."
Councilwoman Anne Ingebretsen then added that the Greenwood Village Police Department has already made many of the "forward-thinking kinds of improvements" that are only now being implemented at other law enforcement agencies across the country. "Our police force is ahead of the curve," she said.
Denise Maes, public policy director at the ACLU of Colorado, notes that the resolution was just a resolution and not an ordinance, "so it really has no significant impact." Because Greenwood Village hasn't been the focus of a civil liability case involving a police officer since the new law went into effect, the resolution hasn't yet been tested.
"There will be cases where it will be shameful for the city to find 'good faith,' and surely many in the gray," Maes adds. "That Greenwood Village thought it imperative to act in favor of law enforcement so quickly may say a lot about the council's priorities."
Asked for his legal opinion on the resolution, Attorney General Phil Weiser responds, “If local governments pass resolutions to place a blanket shield for their law enforcement officers, regardless of whether they act in bad faith, they are going against the spirit of SB 20-217 and its goal of accountability for wrongful conduct. I encourage local governments to implement this law as envisioned and find appropriate ways to demonstrate their support and appreciation for responsible law enforcement officers. If they decline to do so, I expect the legislature will take action in January to address this issue.”
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Leslie Herod, one of the main champions of SB-217, publicly chastised Greenwood Village City Council for its move. "This is a prime example of how dangerous the 'thin blue line' is. Greenwood Village, led by its former Chief of Police, has declared that it will protect its officers no matter what — even those who act in bad faith, harming its citizens. This is not just wrong, it’s dangerous," Herod tweeted on July 9.
And Headrick wants it gone. "The only demand for this protest is that they revoke that resolution and hold their officers accountable," he says.
Westword requested interviews with both the Greenwood Village city attorney and city manager, who happens to be the city's former police chief, but a spokesperson for Greenwood Village instead sent this statement: