This is the video Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration doesn’t want you to see.
On its own, it’s disturbing enough. It shows Denver Sheriff’s Deputy Thomas Ford booking a man into Denver’s downtown detention center, walking over to him, belting him in the face and then apparently kicking him. If there was provocation or a perceived threat from the inmate, Kyle Benton Askin, it’s unclear from the videotape.
What’s also not apparent from the video is that Sheriff’s Officer William Lewis, a 12-year veteran of the department, wrote an inaccurate report about the incident, according to a city news release.
“Sheriff (Gary) Wilson shares the community’s concerns as it relates to deputy misconduct and in March he created four Taskforces to conduct a top to bottom review of the Denver Sheriff Department,” the new release states.
Sunday’s beating and the misleading report about it aren’t lone incidents of official misconduct in Denver’s Sheriff’s Department. Not even close. Department officials have been the subject of a long string of misconduct cases.
Among them was the unprovoked beating of inmate Anthony Waller at the hands of Brady Lovingier, son of the department’s longtime head, Bill Lovingier. In that case, it took the city a year to discipline Brady Lovingier with a 30-day suspension. Even after beating Waller, Lovingier was kept on duty teaching fellow sheriff’s deputies techniques of use of force. Sheriff Gary Wilson claimed not to have known that Lovingier was teaching that class.
In federal court, city inmate Jamal Hunter has accused Sheriff’s Deputy Gaynel Rumer of planning and encouraging a violent attack against him in his cell in 2011. Rumer did not help Hunter while Hunter was screaming as fellow prisoners beat him. U.S. District Judge John Kane chastised the department for conducting an internal affairs probe that Kane called a “sham.”
Last month, Frank Gale, chief of the Downtown Detention Center, was put on a leave of absence as Denver police investigate whether he gave preferential treatment to his colleague, Sheriff’s Captain Sonya Gillespie, ex-wife of Sheriff Wilson, after she was booked in the jail on a domestic violence charge that later was dropped.
Watchdogs say the misconduct incidents have gone on too long, and are becoming too frequent, for Hancock to keep quiet and for his administration not to enact major changes.
“What are people who are arrested? Punching bags? I guess that deputy missed his workout at the boxing gym and was trying to make up for it,” Carol Oyler, a longtime critic of Denver’s Safety Department, said after seeing the video.
“This culture of being allowed to hit people, it comes from above. If city employees felt that they wouldn’t be able to get away with it, they wouldn’t do it. If the deputy is doing the punching, you’ve got to look at the safety manager and to the Mayor and ask what kind of culture are they creating where people feel comfortable acting so violently on the job,” Oyler added.
She pointed out that excessive force cases have continued under the watch of Safety Manager Stephanie O’Malley, daughter of former Mayor Wellington Webb. O’Malley, who was appointed in December, is the Hancock’s seventh safety manager in two years. Some of her predecessors resigned or were fired under scandal.
“It doesn’t matter who he appoints,” Oyler said of Hancock. “The same culture is being repeated over and over again. The Mayor is allowing this kind of misconduct to go on in our city unchecked.”
O’Malley has expressed concerns about misconduct in the sheriff’s department. Her office has said it’s making internal changes, including efforts toward more transparency about misconduct cases. Still, it cited efforts to “preserve the integrity of the criminal and administrative investigation” Wednesday in refusing to disclose the video of Ford beating Askin. It also has refused to release videotapes from other misconduct cases.
The Ford/Askin video — obtained through another channel in the department — was taped on Sunday while Deputy Ford was booking Askin, 29, on what city documents show was a warrant for an out of state offense. Askin is 6’2 and weighs 170 pounds. From the video, Ford looks at least Askin’s size.
Curiously quiet about the string of misconduct cases, including the handling of the jailing of Captain Gillespie his ex-wife, is Sheriff Wilson himself.
In a news release Wednesday, his office announced that Deputy Ford and Officer Lewis, six-and-a-half-year and 12-year veterans of the department, respectively, have been put on administrative leave with pay as the beating and inaccurate report about it are investigated.
Wilson has cited stress as a cause of so many misconduct cases in his department. He has asserted that a newly instituted series of “wellness programs” addressing the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being of deputies is key to the solution.
As some watchdogs see it, forthrightness — not stress management — is the problem.
“As a clergy person who has tried to give this administration the benefit of the doubt, I feel such a sense of betrayal by the continued lies we are being told around the magnitude of this problem. Can it be possible that what is obvious corruption in the Detention Center has morphed into a full blown conspiracy?” said the Rev. Reginald Holmes of Denver’s New Covenant Christian Church/Alpha Omega Ministries.
“Why is there such silence and such cursory actions taken against these sworn protectors. It is as if our sworn protectors are more of a threat to community than are those incarcerated. We need protection from our protectors!”
“We aren’t getting any significant redress from our Mayor, his Administrators, the DA, or the City Council around this assault on the community,” Holmes added.
Holmes is calling for a Department of Justice investigation of Denver’s safety system.
“This administration is totally incapable of policing itself,” he said. “The only solution is for the DOJ to come in and correct and clean up this mess. This IS a mess!”