DENVER -- The Denver Sheriff Department will no longer require deputies to put seat belts on arrestees inside transportation vans—that despite an active written policy which requires them to do so.
It's Sheriff Patrick Firman’s latest reaction to an ongoing series of FOX31 Denver investigations that found failure to secure passengers has led to at least 36 reported injuries in 21 separate accidents over the past five years alone, along with at least one costly lawsuit paid to a man badly injured during an unsecured ride.
FOX31 Denver spent a number of summer nights watching and recording as deputies repeatedly violated the department’s seat belt policy when transporting intoxicated partiers. In a taped interview that aired November 11, Firman said he’d look into the matter.
We waited about three weeks before going back out during the Santa Pub Crawl to conduct additional surveillance to see if anything had changed.
On December 5, FOX31 Problem Solvers recorded with multiple cameras as deputies loaded an intoxicated man into a "scout van" en route to the county`s detox center.
Deputies did not enter the cage to put a seat belt on the passenger before driving away and the man did not appear to be able to do it himself.
We followed up with the Sheriff to ask if what we witnessed again followed the department’s own written policy, which reads: “Officer(s) are to ensure that all inmates are properly secured and their seat belts fasten at all times whenever the van is on the road.”
Sheriff spokesperson, Simon Crittle responded with the following email:
"Our vehicles are equipped with seat belts and our deputies are required to tell inmates, who are handcuffed in front, to buckle up. It would be a major safety and security risk for an armed deputy to get into a confined space with an inmate/s."
The potential consequences of driving around drunk passengers inside the van cage without restraint are embodied in the scars that cross Gaura Ferrer`s skull.
Several years ago, deputies hit the brakes, according to a report, to avoid another vehicle. Ferrer ended up in the hospital with a serious head injury. He sued for his permanent injuries and won a $50,000 settlement.
He told FOX31 Denver’s investigative reporter Chris Halsne, during a taped interview for this report, “I thought I was going to die ... somebody is going to get killed.”
Ferrer said, “Every day I look in the mirror and everyday I have to deal with it. What if you had a big $#% scar on your head, all the way here? Would you be like, oh, that`s cool.”
Ferrer says he cannot believe, after what happened to him, the Sheriff is only worried about the safety of his deputies – not passengers.
FOX31 Denver spoke with a prominent civil rights attorney (one who has won substantial settlements from the Sheriff Department in the past) and he said “the sheriff has been put on notice—now the next time someone gets injured not wearing a seat belt will cost taxpayers a bundle."
We also contacted Mayor Michael Hancock’s office about the Sheriff’s latest verbal policy change.
Hancock issued the following statement: “As the Sheriff Department implements reform, it is constantly reviewing and updating its policies and protocols to align with industry best practices. This includes its scout car transportation policy. My administration has ensured this policy is being given the appropriate attention and that deputies are working to follow the policies and protocols in place.”
FOX31 Denver began its investigation into local law enforcement seat belt policies following the death of a Baltimore arrestee named Freddie Gray. Gray died after being transported in a police van without a seat belt. The City of Baltimore paid out more than $6 million to Gray’s family.AlertMe