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Sonya Gillespie: Does Denver captain's arrest show downside to higher standards?

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Last week, we noted that seven Denver police officers have gotten in trouble in recent months -- some on criminal charges such as assault, others for internal matters like sex on the job and explicit photos stored on department devices.

Now comes word that Denver Sheriff's Department Captain Sonya Gillespie has been arrested and is due in court this morning on a domestic violence charge. But is her offense on par with the others? And is it fair to publicize an apparently minor matter simply because of her job? Or does it come with the territory -- and with a public-service position that calls for employees to be held to a higher standard?

Gillespie has two LinkedIn profiles. The first was created when she was a sergeant with the department's civil liability office, while the second IDs her as a captain working in the downtown division.

Both note that she joined the department in 1992 and has been serving for 22 years.

In addition, we found Gillespie mentioned in a 2012 report about discipline and critical incidents produced by the Office of the Independent Monitor, which is tasked with overseeing the Denver police and sheriff's departments. But while many references in the document pertain to negative allegations, the one about Gillespie is positive. The report reveals that "Captains Paul Oliva and Sonya Gillespie were commended by the Director of Corrections for going above and beyond the call of duty when assisting with the notifications to the family of a deceased Deputy Sheriff. The deputies were commended for their professionalism and compassion in dealing with this tragic situation."

She's presumably less excited by her most recent appearance in the news.

Fox31 reports that Gillespie was arrested yesterday at her Green Valley Ranch home on domestic violence-related charges.

The Denver Police Department confirmed the arrest for the station but provided no details. However, a source tells Fox31 that Gillespie allegedly threw a cell phone at her fiance, described as an Aparaphoe County sheriff's deputy. He wasn't injured in the incident, the source adds -- and a neighbor interviewed by the outlet sings Gillespie's praises as a nice person and great mom always willing to help others.

If there's nothing more to the incident than a cell phone thrown in anger, most media outlets wouldn't have deemed it as newsworthy had it involved an average person. Lakewood Police Department spokesman Steve Davis made a similar point in April, after DPD Detective Michael Ryan received a summons for allegedly soliciting a prostitute.

"Let's pick any profession -- a plumber of a newspaper reporter," Davis told us. "Let's say they get a summons one night for patronizing a prostitute. That person probably can go to court and pay a fine, and his family, his friends and certainly his employer will most likely never know anything about it -- they'll never know he was charged with patronizing a prostitute after that person pays a fine. But Michael Ryan waits two days to get his summons, and during that two days, his picture is put all over town, and his family, his friends and his employer are now very well aware that he's been charged with patronizing a prostitute. And his assignment, his job, is in jeopardy.

"Don't get me wrong," Davis went on. "I'm not defending him. There's no room for people who do things like that in our profession. But to call that preferential treatment.... Well, I certainly would never want that kind of preferential treatment. Give me the summons and I'll go home. So the assertion that this was preferential treatment may need a second thought."

Nonetheless, Denver Police Chief Robert White recently said in an interview about the rash of DPD officers accused of improper behavior that "officers are and should be held to a higher standard." If so, Gillespie shouldn't be surprised that she's in the public eye even if all she did was toss a cell phone in anger.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Follow That Story archive circa June 10: "See seven Denver cops to get in trouble in 2014, including just-busted Daniel Diaz de Leon."

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