Denver Independent Monitor finds ‘extremely troubling’ police tactics and lack of oversight at George Floyd protests

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DENVER (KDVR) — An independent review of Denver’s police response during spring and summertime protests found “significant” gaps in the police department’s oversight of use of force and “extremely troubling” police tactics used by some officers who deployed less-lethal munitions.

Denver’s Office of the Independent Monitor publicly released a 69-page report Tuesday morning, evaluating the police response to the George Floyd Protests that erupted in downtown Denver May 28, and lasted for several weeks.

The findings of the review, conducted at the request of Denver City Council members, will be presented and discussed during a council committee meeting on Wednesday morning. 

“During its review, the OIM found significant gaps in the (Denver Police Department’s) use of internal controls to help manage officer use of force during the protests,” said the report’s executive summary, written by Nicholas Mitchell, the City’s Independent Monitor. “For example, the DPD did not effectively track the less-lethal munitions deployed by its officers and was unable to produce rosters of the officers who worked during the first four days of the (George Floyd Protests).”

Mitchell reported that vague and delayed Use of Force reports as well as a lack of body-worn camera footage were examples of deficient internal controls that were “a missed opportunity for greater managerial oversight of use of force by DPD.”

The OIM report also referred to “extremely troubling” tactics by some officers who deployed weapons at people who were posing no physical threat to law enforcement or others. “We observed examples of DPD officers deploying less-lethal munitions…at persons who were verbally objecting to police behavior and not engaged in apparent physical resistance,” the report said. Those incidents, some of which were captured on body-worn camera, have been referred to DPD for further review and a possible internal affairs investigation.

The report found deficiencies in mutual aid agreements as well as concerns about various types of weapons and how they were used during the protests.

The OIM made 16 recommendations for department improvements, including the development of better staff and weapons-tracking systems and the prohibition of certain weapons – like the hand-thrown explosive device called the rubber-ball grenade – during crowd-control operations.

Use of Force Reporting

According to the review – which was conducted over a period of nearly 6 months –  the police department’s after-action reports were often “vague rather than specific, and they documented only a relatively small number of incidents.” 

The OIM report found DPD’s Use of Force reporting also lacked important details.

“The DPD produced Use of Force Statements written by officers that contained certain information about individual uses of force. But many of them were created almost two weeks after the incidents they documented, and they were often vague, which severely limited their evidentiary value,” the report said.

As the FOX31 Problem Solvers previously reported, DPD denied the Problem Solvers’ request for the Use of Force reports filed by its officers.

$200K spent to replenish munitions

The Denver Police Department spent at least $202,341.50 to replenish some of its less-lethal munitions inventory during the first five days of the protests and used a Colorado State Patrol plane to acquire some supplies in Wyoming, according to the OIM report.

“This included a May 29 order of gas grenades and 40mm rounds that the Colorado State Patrol flew its plane to Wyoming to pick up for the DPD. In interviews, DPD personnel also described receiving unknown amounts of less-lethal munitions from Mutual Aid Partners,” the report said.

At the start of the protest, OIM found DPD was stocked with more than 30,000 pepper ball rounds, more than 600 40mm rounds, more than 200 gas and smoke grenades, and more than 150 OC foggers.

The OIM reported that within hours of the start of the protests on May 28, “DPD officers began reporting that they had exhausted their supplies of less-lethal munitions. For example, as early as 10:30p.m. the Gang Unit and Metro/SWAT reported that they had depleted their supply of pepper ball rounds and throwable munitions. This prompted CCD personnel to begin reaching out to the Aurora Police Department and Englewood Police Department to ask for resupply.”

Between May 29 and June 1, the OIM reported, DPD ordered replenishments that included more than 73,000 pepper ball rounds, 670 40mm sponge grenades, 300 rubber-ball grenades, 250 gas grenades, 250 smoke grenades, and 200 OC foggers.

Despite the purchase of additional munitions, the OIM report found the Denver Police Department could not fully account for how many munitions were deployed.

“The DPD produced a pre-protest inventory of its less-lethal munitions but could not provide complete counts of the actual number of munitions deployed during the (George Floyd Protests),” the report said.

DPD previously told the FOX31 Problem Solvers that officers launched “approximately 90” 40mm sponge grenades during the May protests.

However, Mitchell’s report found DPD could not provide an exact count of munitions that were used.

“The DPD ordered an extremely large quantity of multiple types of less-lethal munitions during the (George Floyd Protest’s) first five days. Given the chaos and violence on the street during that period, this may be unsurprising. Yet, the DPD did not effectively track this inventory during protests,” the report said.

“As munitions were exhausted and new supplies were obtained, they were generally distributed at each day’s briefing to supervisors, who would then dispense them to officers under their command.  Yet, the DPD maintained no log of these munitions distributions, nor an accounting of the rate at which teams were expending them,” the report said.

Protest aftermath

Ultimately, people filed more than 100 complaints against the Denver Police Department, alleging police misconduct. According to the OIM report, during the first week and half of protests, 74 people – who were not law enforcement officials – had to be transported to the hospital due to their injuries. 

“They included impact projectile injuries and breathing problems associated with chemical munitions. Some of the patients were clearly injured while protesting or were bystanders to the protests,” the report said.

Police, meanwhile, suffered injuries due to people throwing rocks, fireworks, and other objects at them.

“We are aware of no other event in Denver’s recent history that resulted in this number of injuries to DPD officers,” the report said.

According to the OIM, 11 officers were placed on limited duty, and four people had to take time off work due to their injuries.

Ultimately, according to the OIM report, DPD reported 81 injuries to officers. 

Recommendations

The Office of the Independent Monitor made several recommendations to improve oversight, including making changes to operations manuals to ensure better tracking of on-scene officers during crowd control situations.

The OIM also recommended better tracking of the deployment of less lethal weapons and the expanded use of body worn cameras, despite an officer’s rank.

The report also suggested eliminating the use of rubber-ball grenades for crowd control operations.  The weapons “emit a bright flash and a 175-decibel noise,” according to the OIM report. They are also able to launch 180 rubber pellets up to a 50-foot radius which can cause “physical pain.”

DPD was also advised to revise its standards for pepper ball use, and to develop mutual aid agreements that address crowd control assistance.

The FOX31 Problem Solvers are reaching out to the Denver Police Department for their response to this review.

The Citizens Oversight Board released this statement on Tuesday morning:

Upon reviewing the findings of the Office of the Independent Monitor in its report analyzing the Denver Police Department’s (DPD) response to the 2020 George Floyd protests, the Citizen Oversight Board (COB) has significant concern about several areas of failure by the DPD, including: (1) the apparent absence of planning for large-scale crowd control events; (2) the haphazard approach to operations and resource management; (3) the insufficient training on less-lethal weapons; and (4) the cavalier approach to accountability and transparency, as exemplified by the systemic failure to consistently activate body worn cameras. In addition, the improper use of less-lethal munitions, in some cases resulting in serious bodily injury, is extremely troubling.

“These are military grade munitions being used against citizens expressing their First Amendment rights,” said Al Gardner, COB Chair. “The OIM’s report raises important questions about what is appropriate use of force in response to protests and demands a closer look at what institutional accountability should look like in these circumstances.”

The COB is committed to working alongside the DPD and the Department of Public Safety to examine ways our city can be better prepared to peacefully police mass protests in the future. While we support the police in their efforts to provide orderly paths to protest, we do not believe that law enforcement or the preservation of order should ever come at the expense of transparency or accountability.

The Denver Citizen Oversight Board will be hosting a public Zoom with Denver Independent Monitor Nick Mitchell from 6-8 p.m. on Dec. 9 regarding the summer protests.

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