DENVER — A long-awaited independent report on the Denver Sheriff Department is calling for sweeping changes across the board, from the very top (appointing a new sheriff) to the very bottom (selecting new underwear for inmates).
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock acknowledged that the findings were not pretty, but he said they mark a turning point for the department and vowed to begin implementing an extensive list of changes.
The beating of Jamal Hunter by deputies inside a Denver jail cell led to one of several excessive force settlements. The city has paid more than $9 million in legal settlements and lawyers’ fees related to several excessive-force scandals. But Hunter’s settlement also required the independent review which is helping expose the scope of the problem.
“There is reason for your concern,” Said Arnette Heintze, CEO of one of the outside companies which conducted the review. “Your call for change is justified.”
The report took four months to complete, featured 120 interviews and yielded 277 recommendations for change, but investigators had a difficult time digging into the numbers because the record keeping was one of the many areas in need of a complete overhaul.
The report discovered critical problems with the way inmates are counted, tracked and placed within the jail. They didn’t even have reliable data on investigations involving excessive force.
“In fact, what went on after most force incidents could hardly be called an investigation at all,” said Michael Gennaco, another leader of the independent review.
Excessive force reports largely included only a short explanation from a deputy, with no information from an inmate.
Supervisors also frequently ignored video evidence even if it was readily available. Often the only times that excessive force cases went to internal affairs was if the inmate filed a formal complaint.
In addition, more time was spent on firearms and other trainings focused on force, than on training that emphasizes de-escalation.
“We knew that this was not going to be pretty but it was important to get all the issues in front of us,” said Mayor Hancock.
Mayor Hancock said a nationwide search for a new sheriff starts immediately, with a focus on someone who can come in and be an agent of change. Executive Director of Safety Stephanie O’Malley will lead the implementation team to begin making changes to the department, including new excessive force training and procedures.
“That’s something that has to be looked at in a quick fashion, rather than a later fashion,” O’Malley said.
“The fact that there’s a report issued, doesn’t give me confidence that they’re actually going to fix the problems,” said Hunter’s attorney Siddhartha Rathod.
Though Rathod helped fight for the report, he says he’ll believe the change when he sees it.
“Denver has known about these problems, time and time again, that have endangered the citizens of Denver,” Rathod said. “Yet they’ve done nothing about it.”