Complaints on cops up 23%


By Christopher N. Osher
Denver Post Staff Writer
Denver Post
 
A Denver police officer used a Taser on the neck of a handcuffed drunk who ended up serving four days in jail after the officer filed a report falsely accusing the suspect of assaulting another officer.

"It jolted all the way through my body down to my toes and my feet," recalled Kenneth Rodriguez, 46, of Tucson. "He just held it and held it."

That Jan. 6, 2006, incident was detailed in an annual report from the monitor who reviews misconduct allegations against Denver police. The report shows citizen complaints against Denver police rose more than 23 percent last year while overall complaints rose 8 percent.

It also shows that Denver Police Monitor Richard Rosenthal favored a stiffer punishment for the officer who used the Taser than Police Chief Gerry Whitman recommended.

"Understando Taser?" a videotape of the incident showed Officer Randall Krouse saying before he used the Taser as he escorted the belligerent but unarmed Rodriguez into a district station holding cell.

"When he took out that Taser, that puzzled me," said Rodri guez, who cursed the officers but never attacked them. "I told him, 'Are you just getting your jollies off on that?"'

Rodriguez pleaded guilty on Jan. 8, 2006, to interference, disturbing the peace and assault after Krouse and reserve officer Lewis Cullar falsely accused him of assaulting Cullar. He was sentenced to four days in jail. The conviction was set aside on Rosenthal's recommendation.

The incident was one of 1,078 misconduct allegations logged against Denver police last year. Of those, citizen complaints were up from 502 in 2005 to 620 last year.

Rosenthal said he suspects the increase in citizen complaints against Denver police stems from his urging police to do a better job documenting complaints. He added that his office has made it easier for citizens to file complaints.

Cops "doing a great job"

Whitman said the spike in complaints against officers might have something to do with a big hiring push last year.

"I really do think the cops are doing a great job," Whitman said. "For the number of contacts we make, the percentage is very low for citizen complaints."

The report says a total of 1,078 complaints against police were logged, including internal ones from supervisors and more routine ones such as failing to keep up with annual shooting-range requirements. Nearly 17 percent of the complaints involved unnecessary force.

Of the complaints generated internally and fully investigated, 93 of 144 - nearly 65 percent - were sustained. Of the citizen complaints fully investigated, 13 of 101 - about 13 percent - were sustained.

Rodriguez said he pleaded guilty because he was just passing through Denver as part of his trucking job and wanted to get the incident behind him.

Whitman originally wanted to give Krouse a 10-day suspension and have him work for five days without pay. Denver Safety Manager Al LaCabe, the final authority on overseeing the city's police officers and firefighters, upped the punishment to a 60-day suspension at Rosenthal's urging.

Krouse and Cullar did not return telephone calls seeking comment. Rosenthal's report did not name the suspect or the officers, but the Denver city attorney's office provided details.

Whitman said he still hasn't decided what punishment to recommend for Cullar, a volunteer.

Rosenthal said he recommended Cullar be terminated for making a false police statement.

Rosenthal said in the report that he normally would have recommended firing Krouse but supported the 60-day suspension partly because of his "unblemished service record."

Restrictions on Taser use

Rosenthal's report states that the Police Department allows the use of a Taser only when warding off "active aggression" and only on a neck for situations warranting the use of deadly force. The Taser incapacitates a suspect by transmitting a 50,000-volt shock - a fraction of the jolt a defibrillator delivers to restart a heart.

Supervisors in the District 2 police station asked for an internal-affairs probe after reviewing a videotape of the incident.

The monitor also persuaded police commanders last year to review their decision not to discipline an officer accused of domestic violence against his wife. After further investigation, the officer was fired.

Rosenthal's report also criticized Denver Health Medical Center for impeding an internal- affairs investigation into the death of 24-year-old Emily Rae Rice, who in February 2006 bled to death in the Denver jail, where she was booked after a drunken-driving crash. Rosenthal said Denver Health, because of litigation concerns, had barred its nurses from cooperating in the investigation.

Denver Health issued a statement saying it is required to participate in internal-affairs investigations only when no pending claim against it exists.

Staff writer Christopher N. Osher can be reached at 303-954-1747 or cosher@denverpost.com.

 

More findings

Denver Police Monitor Richard Rosenthal also stated in his annual report that he is concerned that:

The Denver Police and Sheriff's departments are not determining whether officers who were found to have "departed from the truth" are now providing truthful court testimony.

Internal-affairs investigations of officer-involved shootings are delayed because homicide investigations aren't prepared in a timely fashion. The Police Department's homicide unit said it was doing the best it could despite being understaffed compared with other major police departments.

Internal-affairs investigations take too long to complete.

A backlog exists in the manager of safety's office in preparing public reports on incidents in which suspects were injured or killed by police. The office pledged to the U.S. Justice Department in July 2004 that it would start preparing those reports.

Denver Safety Manager Al LaCabe, who oversees police and firefighters, said a recent staff addition would solve the problem. 

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