Civil Rights Organizations and Faith Leaders Unite in Call for DOJ Investigation of Denver Law Enforcement

Affiliate: ACLU of Colorado
May 13, 2011 1:53 pm

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The ACLU of Colorado has joined the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, the Denver Branch NAACP, members of the family of Marvin L. Booker, and their attorneys, to call for the Department of Justice to investigate the use of force and a pattern of civil rights violations by Denver law enforcement.

“The Denver Safety Manger’s finding that no policy violations occurred in relation to Marvin Booker’s death by restraint at the hands of five deputies, are an admission that sheriff’s department policies sanction homicide and highlights the need for an independent investigation into a pattern or practice of civil rights violations by law enforcement in Denver,” said ACLU Legal Director Mark Silverstein.

The Department of Justice has the authority and the tools to investigate troubling incidents, including the homicide of Mr. Booker, and to evaluate the city’s law enforcement and its policies, practices, training and supervision.

Silverstein said legal efforts to call for the federal investigation will begin immediately with a letter to the Department of Justice.

Establishing a pattern of police misconduct and abuse of power, ACLU Executive Director C. Ray Drew said, is as simple as watching the news.

n Marvin L. Booker, a street preacher who was homeless, died July 9, 2010 at age 56 in the new Denver City Jail after sheriff’s deputies used a “sleeper” hold on him, piled on top of him and Tased him. The coroner ruled his death a homicide but the Denver Safety Manager decided deputies violated no policy in causing his death. His family has filed a civil suit.

n In 2009, Alex Landau, a 19-year-old college student, was pulled over by police for failing to signal. Police officers demanded that Landau open the truck of his car. Landau responded, with his hands up, and said, “Don’t you need a warrant?” For that question about his constitutional rights, he was badly beaten and suffered permanent injuries. Officers lied and engaged in a cover-up to frame Mr. Landau and avoid liability for their illegal and violent acts. The Internal Affairs Bureau conducted only a cursory investigation. The city settled or more than $800,000.

n On June 30, 2009, Michael DeHerrera filed a lawsuit after he was beaten when using his cell phone to inform his father, a Pueblo police officer, that Denver police officers were assaulting his friend. His injuries included head trauma and facial contusions. But officers were only very lightly disciplined. Publicity and public protest convinced the department to reopen the case. It was settled for $17,500.

n In January 2009, Denver paid $100,000 to Trudy Trout to settle an excessive force lawsuit. An officer shoved Ms. Trout to the ground, causing her to break her wrist then lied on his report, saying she tripped over her own shoes. The officer was not disciplined for the use of force or for lying on his report.

n In 2008, Denver paid $885,000 to settle a lawsuit brought against Denver police officers who used excessive force against Juan Vasquez, a 16 year-old boy. Mr. Vasquez was severely injured after one of the officers used a fence as leverage to jump up and down on his back while he lay prone on the pavement.

n In 2007, Denver paid $900,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the estate of Frank Lobato. He was killed when officers looking for a suspect, entered his home without a warrant and shot and killed him while he lay in bed.

n In 2004, the City paid the family of Paul Childs $1.32 million to settle a lawsuit brought after Childs, a developmentally disabled 15 year old boy, was fatally shot by a Denver police officer.

“Law enforcement exists to serve and protect the public, yet the people of Denver, especially people of color, fear the police”, said Drew. “Police departments across the nation have had to clean up their forces and create a new culture of honesty and service. Why aren’t we doing that in Denver?”

Drew continued, “The majority of law enforcement officers are good, honest officers who are trying to do the right thing. But a police department that can’t rid itself of rogue cops is by its own definition, a bad police force.”

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