Deputies blamed for inmate’s escape may not serve suspensions

Problem Solvers
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DENVER (KDVR) — Three deputies with the Denver Sheriff’s Department are each set to serve two-day suspensions for the daring escape of an inmate last September. But those suspensions are being held in abeyance for two years according to the discipline letters released to the Problem Solvers by the Department of Safety under a public records request.

That means if Deputy Ricky Arellano, Deputy Stevie Wise and Deputy John Zamora stay out of trouble for two years, their punishment disappears and they won’t have to serve their 2-day suspensions.

Damian Lynch, 25, explained his escape to the Problem Solvers in an exclusive interview a few weeks after his Sept. 2 escape. He said deputies failed to put leg irons on him as he was about to board an inmate transfer bus at the downtown detention center to be taken to the county jail on Smith Road. When no deputies were looking, Lynch said he slid under the bus and held onto the undercarriage while he was still handcuffed.

Investigative reporter Rob Low asked him, “How sloppy that nobody put leg irons on you. Nobody does a head count on the bus and nobody sees you roll under the bus?” Lynch responded, “Actually, funny enough I heard them say that they were off on the count when I was underneath the bus and I heard another sheriff deputy say ‘We’ll figure it out, that’s what we do.'”

Lynch would later drop and roll out from underneath the bus near Speer Boulevard and Market Street before running towards the Cherry Creek bike trail. A deputy driving a sheriff van that was following the bus saw Lynch run off and called the Sheriff Department’s Emergency Response Unit. Seven deputies quickly caught Lynch in a nearby sewer tunnel.

Those deputies were given Valor Awards by Denver Sheriff Elias Diggins on Nov. 12. After the award ceremony, investigative reporter Rob Low asked Sheriff Diggins if the bus should have been allowed to leaved when the head count was off.

“Rob, I can’t answer that question. I’d be happy to answer that question at the conclusion of the investigation,” Diggins said.

Now that the investigation is over, FOX31 wanted to ask Sheriff Diggins if he thinks the community would find a 2-day suspension those deputies may never have to serve an appropriate standard? But a spokeswoman told the Problem Solvers Diggins is unavailable to answer follow-up questions.

“We want to make sure that our staff that when we have allegations of policy violations that we hold them to the standards that the Denver Sheriff Department upholds and that the community expects,” Diggins said on Nov. 12 addressing the issue of accountability.

The Problem Solvers asked Chris Lujan, an employment attorney who was Denver’s Deputy Director of Public Safety from 2014 to 2017, if he thought the suspensions would meet public expectations.

“No I don’t,” said Lujan, who once helped determined punishment for deputies. “The public is aware of deputies who have done far less in terms of their conduct but have received far worse discipline.”

Lujan said the suspensions send the wrong message to the public when it comes to accountability.

“Well when you issue a sweet heart deal like this, two days held in abeyance, it undercuts everything that the department has been trying to do in the past,” he said.

The escape “became the subject of significant media attention, thereby causing a pronounced negative impact on the Department’s professional image,” according to the discipline letter each deputy received.

FOX31 wanted to ask Sheriff Diggins if he thinks the community would find a 2-day suspension, those deputies may never have to serve, an appropriate standard. But again, despite Diggins told the Problem Solvers in November he would be happy to talk about this case at the conclusion of the investigation, he is now refusing to do so.

When the Problem Solvers asked inmate Damian Lynch on November 12 if he expected the deputies who allowed his escape to be fired he responded, “I don’t want to dig myself a deeper hole. You’ve got to remember everything that I say in here does reflect on me and they treat me accordingly.”

Since his escape, Lynch has been placed in solitary confinement. He’s awaiting trial on escape charges and on his original charge of attempted murder.

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