DENVER (KDVR) — Nearly a year after Brittany Iriart tipped off FOX31 Investigative Reporter Rob Low to a story picked up across Denver, the Problem Solvers have learned she’s been forced out as the internal affairs investigator.
Iriart worked for Denver’s Public Integrity Division, assigned to investigate potential misconduct inside the Denver Sheriff’s Department. She was fired in October but allowed to resign in December, once she agreed to drop her termination appeal and accept six weeks of pay totaling just over $9,300.
“This whistleblower seems to have faced retribution,” State Representative Leslie Herod said. “The backlash is swift and it is great and unfortunately she lost her job for it, that has to change.”
The democratic lawmaker from House District 8 had Iriart testify to a state House committee last summer on police accountability.
Just weeks earlier, in May of 2020, Iriart sent an anonymous email to Low suggesting he make a public records request for a case involving Denver Sheriff Deputy Jason Gentempo.
Surveillance video from outside Denver Health Medical Center on March 22, 2019 showed Gentempo punching an inmate in a wheelchair, who was already handcuffed. Video showed Gentempo reacting after the inmate spit on him.
Iriart investigated the case, which led to a recommendation Gentempo be fired, not for the punch but for lying when he denied he ever threw a punch despite the video evidence. Acts of deception are grounds for automatic termination in the sheriff’s department.
But the results of Iriart’s investigation would be completely reversed once the case reached the sheriff, the City Attorney’s Office and the Deputy Director of Public Safety, who together exonerated Gentempo of all wrongdoing.
“I felt like I was doing a public service by coming forward,” Iriart said in an interview with FOX31 last June, after she outed herself as the whistleblower in the Gentempo case.
Instead, Iriart was suspended and eventually forced out by the Department of Safety, who accused her of breaking a confidentiality agreement she signed when she was hired in 2017.
Iriart wouldn’t talk with FOX31 on the record about her forced departure, telling Low she was scarred by her experience of speaking out.
“The whistleblower in this case was treated abysmally,” Mary Dodge, a professor of criminology at the University of Colorado-Denver said. Dodge is now writing a journal article about Iriart’s case.
“I think the City of Denver is sending a message to the public that we can do whatever we want and we can keep it hidden and we don’t care what you think,” she said.
The Problem Solvers learned that just days after Iriart was suspended in June of 2020, Denver’s Department of Safety forced other investigators in the Public Integrity Division Unit to sign a new, more encompassing confidentiality agreement that reads in part: “I shall not release or provide any information … to the media, unless it is for an official criminal justice purpose and then only with the permission of a supervisor.”
When asked if she thought Denver changed the wording of its confidentiality agreement to prevent future whistleblowers, Herod responded, “I think that might also violate (Senate Bill) 217; 217 specifically says if you see an officer doing wrong you have to report it. You have a duty to intervene so this could actually conflict with that very starkly.”
Senate Bill 217, a Colorado bill addressing police accountability, which passed last summer following the George Floyd protests, only tells certified police officers to do the right thing. It does not provide guidance for civilians who may believe leaders in a law enforcement agency may be committing wrongdoing by turning a blind eye to misconduct.
“If that’s not covered by the law, then we should change the law to ensure that they are,” Herod said.
“The fact of the matter is we have a Denver whistleblower ordinance that is meant to protect members of our community,” Iriart’s attorney at the time, Laura Wolf said. “And yet it didn’t protect Ms. Iriart because at the end of the day Denver wanted her to stay quiet.”
It turns out Gentempo was the subject of another use-of-force case that Iriart was assigned to investigate. In May of 2020, Gentempo was one of 13 deputies who helped tackle an inmate who was allegedly not following orders to sit down.
After the inmate Canas Flores was taken to his cell, Gentempo could be seen on surveillance video going back into Flores’ cell where he claimed to push Flores backwards because he claimed Flores was attempting to leave his cell.
Minutes later, video shows Flores being taken to Denver Health in a wheelchair, bleeding from his face.
Emails obtained by the Problem Solvers show Iriart complained to her boss that Gentempo refused to show up for his internal affairs interview with her. He would be exonerated on Oct. 8, 2020 just one week after the city notified Iriart it was terminating her.
“I think it goes to show where the values lie for Denver. You have an incredibly violent sheriff’s deputy who has now engaged in multiple uses of force. Opens up Denver to significant liability from a civil lawsuit standpoint,” Wolf said. “Meanwhile Ms. Iriart is an honorably discharged veteran, she’s a career long public servant. She’s out of a job, she’s out a career.”
“It seems extremely problematic that she was let go, and that the officer remains in Denver,” Herod said.
The Denver Department of Public Safety declined an interview request from FOX31 for this story, telling the Problem Solvers it had supplied all documentation requested in this case.