Settling police and sheriff claims cost Denver $10 million since 2002, ACLU finds

As detailed in last week's feature on Independent Monitor Richard Rosenthal, Denver is in the midst of a police-misconduct story that won't go away.

Now, as part of its "Race to Justice" police brutality awareness campaign, the ACLU tracked down all city payouts for police-related lawsuits and complaints between 2002 and mid-2010 -- which totaled more than $6.5 million. But the total is actually much higher.

With the $3 million the city doled out in 2008 over Emily Rae Rice's jailhouse death plus the $795,000 recently paid to settle the Alex Landau case, the city's spent more than $10 million over law enforcement problems in the last decade.

The ACLU compiled the list by scouring minutes of the Denver City Council's safety committee for all mentions of settling claims involving the police department. That resulted in 89 cases between September 2002 and April 2010. "Once I realized that this information was available on the city website, I wanted to see how much they had on there and see the history of what these settlements were," says Erik Maulbetsch, campaigns director for the ACLU of Colorado. "It's nice to be able to source by date and the amount."

For Maulbetsch, what's striking about the results aren't the big payouts associated with the high-profile cases of police misconduct over the years, such as the millions given to the families of Paul Childs and Frank Lobato after both were killed by officers in controversial incidents, but instead the smaller payments -- the $5,000, $10,000 and $15,000 expenditures over matters that likely never made the news at all. And these incidents are just the cases that got as far as a lawsuit or formal complaint; Maulbetsch points out that many do not.

"It just speaks to a larger problem," he says. "When we talk about a pattern of issues that have been troubling in the police department and the sheriff department, this demonstrates it pretty clearly."

Look below to view all of the settlements, dates and case numbers:

Denver Police Department Settlements

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Denver police brutality scandal: A multimedia timeline."

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner