DENVER -- Since 2008, Denver police officers have been accused of excessive force at least 1,300. Only eight of those cases resulted in the termination or suspension of the officer.
A window into the disconnect between what the public views as “excessive” and what the Denver Police Department determines is acceptable may be in how new recruits are trained.
FOX31 Denver Investigative Reporter Chris Halsne and Investigative Producer Carisa Scott spent months speaking with cadets and reviewing internal affairs complaints that trainers at the Denver Police Academy physically abused, choked and struck recruits in the unprotected face.
Training or Hazing?
Kimberly Lockinour was a decorated police officer in Carbondale, Illinois when she decided to move to Denver looking for new professional challenges in a bigger city.
Given her resume, Denver Police hired her right away. They asked Lockinour to go through its spring 2014 Police Academy class.
One of only five female recruits, she knew it would be tough, but tells FOX31 Denver she did not think it would be "abusive."
"It was absolutely 100 percent hazing. No training. That was not training."
Lockinour is referring to abuse she says occurred during what Denver Police call Dynamic Action Drill Day.
It`s a 12-minute test of training techniques which includes a variety of hand-to-hand combat situations pitting recruits against seasoned DPD academy staff.
During the Dynamic Action drill test, Lockinour says she was intentionally injured by an instructor.
Lockinour says, "When I came to I was clenching my belt, clenching my belt for dear life and my neck was hurting (puts hand up to neck) here. Oh my goodness. This guy just slapped me and he just chocked me!"
Lockinour provided medical records to FOX31 Denver which show treatment she received for what a doctor described in his notes as this: “Was in police academy exercises and was suffocated in partial choke hold. Now having sore throat and neck pain.”
Internal Affairs investigation
An internal affairs investigation ensued peeling back some secrets inside the academy. FOX31 Denver obtained an exclusive copy. The results revealed a trainer:
- Threatened to “slap the 's*@#' out of her” after Lockinour pinched him during an exercise
- Shortly thereafter, the trainer came through on that threat, records showing he “slapped her one time with an open hand”
- The male trainer also admitted using a “carotid control hold” on Lockinour, not to show her how the hold works, rather to “make the recruit aware they need to become more aggressive"
Lockinour thinks the rough treatment was a test from her instructor to see if she was tough enough and would keep her mouth shut even if she thought he’d crossed the line.
Halsne: See if you can suffer like all the people before you, feel like that?
Lockinour: Yes sir. The Denver way as they say in the academy. The Denver way.
When questioned by internal investigators, another female recruit (in the same class) said she too was put in a neck hold -and that “the same thing happened to several of the other recruits.”
And a male recruit admitted some of his classmates were passed out during the exercise. “Kind of like knocked out/choked out.”
Lockinour told FOX31 Denver in an on-camera interview, “I think it breeds aggressive police officers. I think it teaches people to fight first and talk later and that doesn`t work.”
Denver Police refused to talk to us. So FOX31 Denver traveled to Las Vegas to speak with one of the country`s top police training specialists.
Chad Lyman is Director of Combatives at Progressive Force Concepts.
What recruits should expect at Police Academy
Lyman declined to discuss specifics of Lockinour`s complaint, but agreed to give us an insider`s look into what recruits should expect from a good police academy system.
“They should not be incurring injury," Lyman told Halsne. “If I`m holding a class and every time somebody needs surgery ... losing teeth ... somebody`s nose is broken, I`m having diminishing returns. Nobody wants to train. Nobody wants to come to that class. We`re just basically beating people. That`s not productive.”
Teaching recruits how to use a carotid hold, which can cause the target to pass out in as little as three seconds, is controversial enough, but having trainers actually wrap up the necks of recruits to the point of having them pass out is even more rare.
FOX31 Denver contacted 12 major police academies that serve Colorado. None admitted to using the carotid hold on recruits to show them how passing out feels.
Nine said they do not use neck holds during recruit training at all. Three others said they train neck restrains in a controlled, orchestrated, and heavily supervised environment. That is something Lyman agrees with.
"What we want to do is start to build the recruit's ability to make decisions, to think through an event, to rely back on their training, and to control themselves. So while it`s uncomfortable, while the recruit may not enjoy the experience, what I think it does is begin to prepare them."
Lockinour believes trainers at the Denver Police Academy were less concerned about preparing her for duty and more interested in testing her willingness to keep the Blue Code of Silence.
Records show Lockinour didn`t complete the Dynamic Action Drill training day. She says when she could not continue after being choked, her trainer told her “her resignation was assumed.”
Records on file at DPD say Lockinour “quit.”
Although FOX31 Denver has confirmed there is video and audio tape of Lockinour`s treatment during the drills in which she is complaining about, DPD refused to provide a copy to Halsne or KDVR-TV attorneys. Denver police wrote in its denial that “Revealing details of tactical training could impact officer safety and in turn, public safety.”
Former recruit retains attorney
Lockinour says she has retained an attorney to deal with an unfair termination, but FOX31 Denver checked and there is no lawsuit filed as of yet.
There is an ongoing investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC.
Records in that case include a legal letter, written to Denver Chief of Police Robert White, asking he preserve all records including surveillance videos.
It also includes a statement from Lockinour which says in part: “I was the only recruit who was made to repeat the entire Dynamic Action Drill. I believe I was targeted to repeat the course because of my sex, race, and/or color and in retaliation for me speaking out against my treatment during my prior training at the Denver Police Academy.”