Jan 242011
Authors: Jim Sojourner

You can put lipstick (or a badge) on a pig, but it’s still a pig –– particularly when that pig is a Denver cop.

Along with a reputation for bad sports teams, turning down hosting the Olympics and holding the 2008 Democratic National Convention, the Mile High City is earning itself quite the reputation for police misconduct –– misconduct of the sort where cops violate your constitutional rights, beat your face in, call you something racist, put you in the hospital and then charge you with a crime.

Okay, so maybe the term misconduct doesn’t quite cut it. But then again, neither do the terms brutality, thuggery or bad cop.

Over the last few years, Denver has been involved in a long string of police brutality cases. According the Denver Post, between 2004 and September 2010, the city paid out almost $6.2 million to settle suits against police, almost all for allegations of excessive force.

Ouch. I’ll bet Denver taxpayers love paying for tax-paid cops beating up taxpayers, especially during such prosperous economic times.

The money-train of settlements doesn’t seem to have phased DPD’s thugs, though, because according to this week’s Westword article “Black and Blue,” Daniel Packman’s National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project found that between January and June of 2010, 17 Denver officers were connected with brutality complaints –– more per capita than in any other major U.S. city.

Denver’s police have a worse brutality complaint record during that period than Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. There’s something for your city post cards.

After a short look at some of the latest high-profile police beatings, it’s easy to see why.

“Black and Blue” chronicles the case of 19-year-old Alex Landau, who filed a federal lawsuit after Denver cops gave him a broken nose, a concussion, a twitchy eye, 45 stitches and a felony charge (later dropped for lack of evidence and conflicting police reports).

In January 2009, Landau got pulled over for an illegal left turn and possession of marijuana when, officers Randy Murr, Ricky Nixon and Tiffany Middleton claimed, Landau reached for one of their guns. Landau said he simply asked if they had a warrant to search his car trunk before one punched him in the face.

After pummeling him with their fists, radio and metal flashlights, Landau said he remembers one of the cops saying “Where’s that warrant now, you f**king nigger?”

Sweet. Just the type of calm, civically minded folk we need patrolling our streets. Now let’s look at a few more.

First, there’s Eric Winfield who settled with the city for $40,000 after a 2007 beat down left him with two black eyes, a broken nose, chipped teeth and permanent nerve damage.

According to a 7News report, on Oct. 27, 2007 a bouncer mistook Winfield for a man who had earlier started a fight and pointed him out to some police. Officers Antonio Milow, Thomas Johnston and Glen Martin surrounded Winfield and beat him to a pulp before alleging in their reports that Winfield took an “aggressive stance” and tried to fight. Internal affairs cleared the cops, but felony charges of assaulting an officer against Winfield were also dropped.

Next, let’s look at the high-profile Michael DeHerrera case. As captured by DPD’s own video, on April 4, 2010 DeHerrera was on a cell phone explaining to his father, the Pueblo County Sheriff, why his friend Shawn Johnson was being arrested when Officer Devin Sparks walked over unprovoked, threw DeHerrera to the ground face-first and beat him black and blue.

To cover their actions Sparks and Randy Murr –– oho yes, that same Randy Murr –– lied in their incident reports. The city’s independent monitoring agency recommended both be fired. Denver’s Manager of Safety Ron Parea disagreed and did not fire either cop but resigned himself days later due to public outcry to his obscene decision.

Internal affairs initially cleared the officers but recently reopened the case. The investigation is still ongoing. A charge against DeHerrera for resisting arrest was dropped.

And there’s more, like Mark Ashford, whose case hit the news last August when a bystander video surfaced of Denver cops beating him while he walked his dog.

Or James Watkins, who recently got a $20,000 settlement after another bystander captured video of police chasing him and pounding his head into the concrete. Watkins allegedly said something like “cops suck” after they started talking up a woman he was with. What a crime.

Whatever is going on in Denver, it ain’t good. The city’s cops are replacing real policing with lazy (and costly) brutality.

On the farm, when a big, mean pig gets out of line, you show it who’s boss. It’s time Denver taxpayers do the same.

Managing Editor Jim Sojourner is a senior journalism major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 4:01 pm

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