Citizen complaints against Denver police increased 24 percent last year, the same year more aggressive law enforcement was credited with driving crime down 10 percent.
In addition to providing a one-year report card on the outcome of complaints against Denver police, the annual report released today by the Denver Independent Police Monitor sharply criticizes the city's manager of public safety for delays in processing police discipline cases and establishing a revamped disciplinary system.
It also takes the city-supported hospital to task for failing to cooperate with police investigators.
The monitor says the spike in complaints more likely reflects an easier system to report beefs with officers than it indicates an upswing in bad behavior by police.
For the second year in a row, none of the citizen allegations of unnecessary force was sustained, but that does not worry Monitor Richard Rosenthal.
"It's not uncommon," he said. "Sustained cases are extremely low nationwide."
Citizen complaints more often allege discourtesy or harassment, and several of those were sustained, Rosenthal said.
The monitor criticized Denver Public Safety Manager Al LaCabe, while also praising him to a large extent.
"I'm very supportive of Al LaCabe," Rosenthal said in an interview. "I think he is an excellent manager of safety. But he did promise that he would write these letters and these reports, and he hasn't been able to. . . . He has got to either get this done or come up with an alternative."
LaCabe said his office has been inundated with work, but is now fully staffed to fix both problems. He said he has told the monitor and the mayor that finishing the use-of-force probes and discipline issues are "our No. 1 priorities."
LaCabe added that he is currently editing the new disciplinary procedures.
The disciplinary system LaCabe is reviewing is considered crucial, but as of the end of the year LaCabe had yet to start a new program, the monitor said.
"The project is much too important to allow to languish," Rosenthal wrote.
Rosenthal also rebuked Denver Health Medical Center for a lack of cooperation in the investigation of the death of Emily Rae Rice, who died in jail custody in 2006 from injuries sustained in a car accident. Rosenthal said that nurses, fearing a lawsuit, have not cooperated with the police.
That failure, he said, "has had a negative impact in the integrity of the investigation."
Denver Health said Wednesday that its written agreement with the city requires cooperation with police and sheriff's officers "unless there is a pending claim against Denver Health."
Anything discussed with investigators, hospital spokeswoman Dee Martinez said, "would be discoverable by attorneys involved in prosecuting or defending cases."
Rosenthal said the sheriff's office should review policies that allow Denver Health nurses to work in jail facilities without a requirement that they cooperate fully with internal affairs investigations.
How to file a complaint
Complaint forms are widely distributed and are available from, among other places, the offices of City Council members. A citizen also can file them directly with the police or the monitor. Here are the addresses:
• The Independent Monitor - Webb Building, 201 W. Colfax Ave.
• Police Headquarters - 1331 Cherokee St.
To file a complaint (or commendation) online:
• The Office of the Independent Monitor: www.denvergov.org/oim
• Denver Citizen Oversight Board: www.denvergov.org/cob/
• Denver Sheriff Department: www.denvergov.org/sheriff
kilzerl@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-2644
System worked in excessive-force case, watchdog says
Officer used Taser on cuffed man
By Lou Kilzer, Rocky Mountain News
March 15, 2007
Kenneth Rodriguez probably didn't know what hit him.
Handcuffed at a police station, he was shot in the neck by a stun gun by a Denver police officer.
It should never have happened, according to a report on police conduct released Wednesday.
The report does not name Rodriguez or the officer involved but the Rocky Mountain News confirmed the identities through court records and other sources.
Denver Independent Police Monitor Richard Rosenthal, showcased the incident as instance where the system worked.
Rodriguez, 47, was at a north Denver bar in January 2006, when there was a disturbance, according to a police report.
He soon found himself handcuffed and in custody in a police district station. The exact whys and hows are still up in the air.
Officer Randall Krouse said in his report that Rodriguez acted aggressively at the station and had to be stunned with a Taser gun.
The monitor says a video camera caught the scene and Rodriguez "was clearly not engaging in active aggression."
According to Rosenthal, Krouse confronted Rodriguez, who speaks English, with this question: "Understando Taser?" He then zapped Rodriguez in the neck.
Krouse's report said Rodriguez pushed a reserve officer into a wall.
Rosenthal said it didn't happen. Instead, he concluded that Krouse was faced with a prisoner who "was not completely cooperative" and decided to use the high-voltage Taser gun.
Under Denver police policy, an officer is not allowed to Taser someone in the neck except when "deadly force" is warranted.
That was not the case with Rodriguez. He was handcuffed, in custody and no threat, Rosenthal said.
Still, he was charged with interference, disturbing the peace and assault, all misdemeanors.
He pleaded guilty the day after he was arrested, according to court records. It's not clear why.
Rosenthal said Wednesday that he believed Rodriguez was "too drunk to realize what happened" and went along with the charges. After reviewing the case, the commanding officer suggested that Krouse serve a nine-day suspension for use of excessive force, inappropriate comments and the use of his Taser.
Police Chief Gerry Whitman later bumped the discipline up to 10 days.
But Rosenthal and Safety Manager Al LaCabe thought that was too lenient.
They went for a 60-day suspension, with 20 days held in abeyance - and then only if Krouse was willing to accept responsibility by accepting the suspension without any possibility of appeal.
The monitor said he did not recommend that Krouse be fired based in part on the officer's "unblemished service record with numerous commendations and awards."
The department instituted a "performance service plan" in an attempt to "save the officers career."
After the tape surfaced, prosecutors went to court to get the conviction overturned.
The incident was the only arrest listed on Rodriguez's record with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
kilzerl@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-2644
Copyright 2007, Rocky Mountain News. All Rights Reserved.