Update: On Friday, we shared what the Denver District Attorney's Office characterized as "factual misrepresentations" in the recall petition targeting DA Mitch Morrissey following his decision not to criminally charge officers in the shooting death of seventeen-year-old Jessie Hernandez in January. See our previous coverage below.
Now, the organizers of the recall, led by Alex Landau, who was beaten bloody by Denver cops in a 2009 incident that resulted in a $795,000 settlement with the City of Denver, have fired back.
They argue that the office's responses are themselves factual misrepresentations.
In addition, they take issue with a list of 25 officers charged by the Denver DA's office for force-related offenses in recent years (the complete roster is reproduced here), as well as a specific case of concern: the continuing incarceration of Clarence Moses-El for a sexual assault about which he's always maintained his innocence, and that convicted rapist LC Jackson has said he committed.
Here's the text of the letter supplied to Westword:
Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey's office has challenged our recall petition. He is disputing community concerns and asserting that the grounds for this recall are "factual misrepresentations...that are incorrect and misleading.” We believe that Mitch Morrissey’s office's counterpoints to our concerns are factual misrepresentations and misleading.Continue for our previous coverage.
Morrissey’s office listed 25 cases where officers were criminally charged (for various offenses) dating back to 1997. But Morrissey didn't assume office until January, 2005. Of the 25 cases cited,15 were filed before he took office as head District Attorney. Of the 10 filed during his tenure, 2 are sealed with no information. Of the 8 remaining cases (varying from harassment to prohibitive use of a weapon), 4 concerned off-duty officers.
The D.A.’s office is misrepresenting how many officers have actually been charged in cases of excessive force or homicide during Morrissey’s time in office. None of these charges were for officer involved shootings.
Morrissey's statement does not acknowledge the millions of dollars that Denver tax-payers have paid in settlements- where, by implication, officers were guilty and not charged. We are gravely concerned about excessive force cases that resulted in significant bodily injury or death that have not been prosecuted.
Morrissey said in his statement that he had an ethical obligation to uphold state laws in place at the time of the 2006 marijuana reforms. Colorado is a home rule state; an amendment to the state constitution grants cities, municipalities, and/or counties the ability to pass laws to govern themselves as they see fit (so long as they obey the state and federal constitutions). The Denver Police Department has the option to use city or state laws for minor infractions. Morrissey’s ethical obligation should be to the people of Denver. The police were arresting (and the D.A. was charging) Denver residents for possessing minor amounts of marijuana. This went against the will of the people and contributed to the need to fund an already overburdened system.
We commend the work of The Justice Review Project. This program applied DNA technology to the review of a specific group of criminal cases. The District Attorney’s Office has not, however, re-opened the Clarence Moses-El case. Mr. Moses-El has served 30 years for a crime someone else confessed to.
Morrissey denies that his office uses it’s power and city resources to intimidate community members-especially those protesting law enforcement misconduct. His claims aren’t validated by community perception or by the facts. To community, intimidation is the DA’s office supporting questionable statements and allegations by law enforcement in cases of excessive force or homicide. Intimidation looks like protesters being arrested (and in some cases, facing felony charges) for exercising their first amendment rights. Intimidation is being afraid to challenge a system that has a longstanding pattern of favoring and justifying law enforcement claims.
Mitch Morrissey’s office supports a culture of policing that is reactionary and poorly trained in de-escalation techniques. This further erodes community trust in law enforcement.
A goal of this recall is to send a clear message to Morrissey’s successor(s). The community of Denver will not tolerate a District Attorney who fails to hold law enforcement accountable, especially in cases of excessive force and homicide.
Update, 6:44 a.m. June 12: Yesterday, we told you about a petition to recall Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, filed on the same day he announced that he wouldn't criminally charge officers in the shooting death of seventeen-year-old Jessie Hernandez. See our previous coverage below.
At the time of the post's publication, the DA's office had not weighed in about this effort. However, we have now received a response that declines to comment on the petition process itself but attacks what are described as "factual misrepresentations...that are incorrect and misleading" in the petition's "General statement of grounds for recall."
Here's the text from the petition statement:
“Under Mitch Morrissey’s 11 year watch as district attorney numerous excessive uses of force and civil rights violations by Denver law enforcement has cost city taxpayers millions of dollars in settlement sums. Yet Morrissey has failed to prosecute any of these cases. No charges have been filed in officer involved shootings and other excessive use of force cases. His failure to prosecute gives law enforcement officers the green light to continue to prey on Denver’s community. Morrissey has a reputation of refusing to reopen cases where evidence is present to exonerate people of crimes which they may not have committed. Morrissey has a pattern of using his office and city resources to intimidate community members especially those community members protesting law enforcement misconduct. Mitch Morrissey also abused his discretion by charging people under state law for marijuana possession in 2006 after voters in Denver allowed adults to possess an ounce. Morrissey frequently fails to prosecute those responsible for violating inmate’s rights. Morrissey consistently engages in a practice of undermining the authority of other public officials who attempt to hold abusive law enforcement officers accountable. For all of the reasons the Denver community demands Mitch Morrissey’s recall.”And here's the response from the DA's office:
• The petition states, “No charges have been filed in officer involved shootings and other excessive use of force cases.”We've reached out for a response to Alex Landau, a point person for the recall effort — and a past victim of a police beating for which officers weren't criminally charged. Once we hear back from him, we'll share his thoughts.
This is untrue. Since 1997, the Denver District Attorney’s Office has filed criminal charges in approximately two dozen cases that involved the use or threatened use of unjustified force or coercion during a law-enforcement action.
• The petition states, “Morrissey has a reputation of refusing to reopen cases where evidence exists to exonerate people of crimes which they may not have committed.”
This is untrue. District Attorney Morrissey wrote the grant that secured federal funding for Denver and the State of Colorado to review every rape and murder case in which a defendant was sentenced to prison. The Justice Review Project later expanded under a second phase to review other types of cases in a search for anyone wrongfully convicted of a crime. There were more than 6,000 cases reviewed statewide.
• The petition states, “Morrissey has a pattern of using his office and city resources to intimidate community members, especially those protesting law enforcement misconduct.”
This is untrue and is unsupported by any facts.
• The petition states, “Mitch Morrissey also abused his discretion by charging people under state law for marijuana possession in 2006 after voters in Denver allowed adults to possess an ounce.”
This is untrue; the District Attorney had an ethical obligation to uphold state laws that were in place at the time. Where he did have discretion, he later worked with the City Attorney, after the passage of Amendment 64, to dismiss cases that were about to become legal under the new law.
Also note that the district attorney's office had previously supplied us with a list of 25 law enforcers charged during Morrissey's tenure in office for what spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough characterized as stemming "from some kind of use or threatened use of unjustified force or coercion during a law-enforcement action " Continue for that information and more.
Original post, 7:52 a.m. June 11: In our post about the decision not to charge officers in the shooting of Jessie Hernandez, a seventeen-year-old whose death behind the wheel of a stolen car partly inspired the Denver Police Department to change its policy allowing officers to shoot into moving vehicles, we noted that Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey hasn't pressed allegations against any law enforcers who killed suspects in the line of duty during his eleven years in office.
Moreover, his office hasn't done so since 1992.
The lack of charges in such cases is noted in a recall petition being circulated by local community organizations, including Colorado Progressive Action.
However, the DA's office has gone after plenty of law enforcers in other instances. According to spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough, Morrisseey has filed charges against 25 of them in cases that "stem from some kind of use or threatened use of unjustified force or coercion during a law-enforcement action "
We've got the entire list below.
One of the contact persons for the petition is Alex Landau, the subject of a Westword cover story in 2011. Two years earlier, in 2009, Landau was pulled over for making an illegal turn and subsequently beaten bloody by Denver cops, as this photo demonstrates.
The officers who inflicted this damage on Landau weren't criminally charged — but Landau eventually received a $795,000 settlement from the Denver City Council over the incident.
The press release about the petition lays out the reasons behind the effort like so:
Many community members are appalled by the Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey's refusal to indict law enforcement officers who have abused their power. During the 11 years that Morrissey has held office, Denver's tax-payers have paid millions of dollars to settle police brutality cases, some of which have resulted in the death of innocent civilians. Morrissey has never once filed charges against law enforcement officers in any excessive use of force cases. A number of concerned community groups are now demanding Mitch Morrissey’s removal from office.
The petition was approved by the Colorado Secretary of State's Office on June 5, the day the decision not to charge officers in the Hernandez case was announced. That weekend, groups such as Occupy Denver were already circulating the document, as seen in this photo....
....and this one:
At this writing, Morrissey's office hasn't commented on the petition. But as part of a separate request from Westword, Kimbrough supplied information about the aforementioned 25 filings against officers in force situations. She notes via e-mal that most of the offenses took place while law enforcers were on-duty, although "there are a couple where the officer or deputy was not officially on duty but represented themselves as on duty or they were in uniform."
Kimbrough excluded "cases like the recent one where the sheriff’s deputy helped the inmate escape, as that wasn’t really a use of force, or cases like DUI or domestic violence." But she included ones that were sealed; they're referenced without the use of the defendant's name or date.
Here's the list, with the years of filing in roughly descending order, accompanied by Kimbrough's brief description of the charges or circumstances.
1. Anne Kelley, 2011, assault (acquitted at trial)Kimbrough adds that "we have charged officers since 2011, but they have either been off duty crimes or were on duty but not use of force."
2. Hector Paez, 2010, kidnapping/sexual assault
3. John Brown, 2009, prohibited use of weapon
4. Xxxxxxx, Xxxxxxx, assault, (sealed)
5. Xxxxxxx, Xxxxxxx, assault, (sealed)
6. Dan Steckman, 2008, assault
7. Alvin Perez, 2008, cruelty to animals
8. Christopher Dobson, 2007, felony menacing
9. Adam Nuanez, 2006, harassment
10. Damon Bolden, 2005, harassment
11. Xxxxxx, Xxxxxx, unlawful sexual contact (sealed)
12. Michael Rossi, 2004, assault
13. Keith Spooner, 2004, menacing
14. John Meoni, 2002, assault
15. Xxxxxx Xxxxxx, assault (sealed)
16. Bernard Montoya, 2002, assault
17. Ronald Hughes, 2001, assault
18. Darrell Wisdom, 2000, menacing
19. Stanley Valverde, 2000, menacing
20. Jeffrey Steed, 2000, assault
21. Steve Rickard, 1999, official misconduct
22. Daniel Pollack, 1998, sexual assault
23. Joe Rodarte, 1997, assault (acquitted at trial)
24. Matthew Graves, 1997, assault
25. Paul Murawski, 1997, menacing and assault
Many of these cases received relatively little or no public attention. An exception was the Hector Paez arrest and prosecution. In 2010, the Denver police officer allegedly coerced an arrestee into orally pleasuring him in order to avoid going to jail.
The petitioners counter that Morrissey didn't charge officers in many other high-profile matters — and they maintain his decisions cost the city plenty. Another excerpt from the press release:
In early 2015, the city of Denver settled two cases of excessive force for almost $10,000,000. In 2010, Marvin Booker was killed in the Denver City Jail by Deputies. Morrissey said that he didn’t indict the officers because he felt it’d be too difficult to convince a jury that they were guilty — and he didn’t want to waste city resources to do it. Booker’s family was subsequently awarded $6,000,000 in a civil suit. In 2013, Jamal Hunter was tortured in the Denver City Jail. Morrissey acknowledged to a reporter that there were serious allegations of criminal conduct by Deputy Rumer and possibly other deputies. However, the District Attorney's Office twice declined to prosecute in the Hunter case. Jamal Hunter was awarded $3,250,000 dollars in a civil suit.To get a recall measure on the November ballot, petition takers must collect 53,925 signatures of Denver voters by August 4. As such, organizers are seeking volunteers at this Facebook page.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.