Denver PD officer loses appeal of suspension for illegal chokehold

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DENVER -- An officer with the Denver Police Department was suspended for 30 days after he used excessive force on a man during an arrest, which goes against DPD policy. Officer Rudolph Suniga's effort to appeal the decision was denied.

On Wednesday, FOX31 and Channel 2 obtained a decision order from the city and county of Denver's Civil Service Commission. It was authored by hearing officer Daniel C. Ferguson.

According to the document, the incident started on Sept. 23, 2018, when Jaworski Gauthier, 42, allegedly tried to steal a Greyhound bus near 24th and Curtis streets in Five Points. Gauthier is also accused of trying to open numerous car doors and attempting to enter a home. In the document, he is referred to as a person of interest.

Officers' body camera footage shows two officers confronting Gauthier. One of the officers is Suniga; the other is referred to as Officer Lucero.

In the footage from Lucero's body camera, Gauthier says something about getting his ID. Lucero can be seen trying to grab Gauthier while he flails, knocking Lucero's body camera off his uniform. The camera continues to record audio but not video.

At the same time, Suniga struggles to grab Gauthier's arm. His body camera is also knocked off. However, it continues to record both audio and video.

In the audio, at least one of the officers is telling Gauthier to stop resisting.

Then, in the video from Suniga's body camera, Gauthier can be heard saying he cannot breathe, and a fist can be seen under his chin.

Other officers then arrived at the scene.

"It is clear, from the admissions of Petitioner and from the bodycam videos in evidence that Petitioner did place [Gauthier] in a neck hold, with his fist on the front of the throat of [Gauthier]," the document states.

The documents also states that Gauthier's breathing was restricted "at least in substantial part by Petitioner Suniga's takedown hold" for one minute and 49 seconds and that Gauthier did lose consciousness at one point.

Denver Deputy Directory of Safety Mary Dulacki testified that she reviewed the file.

"She noted that [Gauthier] was not complying with the directions given to him by Officer Lucero to get on the ground, to relax, or to give them his arm to be handcuffed," the document states.

However, Dulacki also found that "the resistance exhibited by [Gauthier] in this case did not constitute lethal force by [Gauthier], and therefore that the actions taken by the Petitioner were not appropriate, that he needed to use lesser appropriate force."

Dulacki went on to say that according to the DPD handbook, officers are only allowed to use the "Carotid Compression Technique" when the subject is using deadly force against an officer. Dulacki said that while Suniga did not use the carotid compression technique, he did use a hold that was not a permissible hold or takedown found in the DPD manual for officers.

Suniga also testified about the incident. He said it was not his intention to use a chokehold on Gauthier and that his concern was controlling him.

"Petitioner further stated that once they were successful in taking [Gauthier] to the ground, he was concerned because the right arm of [Gauthier] was under his body, and it was not known whether [Gauthier] had a weapon of any sort. He stated that he remained on the back of [Gauthier] until other officers were able to place handcuffs on [Gauthier]," the document states.

Suniga also testified that he did not hear Gauthier say he could not breathe. He said he experiences "some auditory exclusion" and that at the time of the takedown, he was concerned for Lucero's safety.

Additionally, Suniga said he went through Police Academy in 1992 and was an "Arrest and Control" instructor in the early 2000s, but DPD's manual for arrest and control procedures have changed since that time.

In the document, Ferguson concluded that Suniga's 30-day suspension was appropriate.

Gauthier later plead  guilty to third-degree assault and attempted motor vehicle theft.

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