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ACLU calls on Denver officials to deliver on promised police reform


March 24, 2005


The Denver city administration is already failing to deliver on one of its promised reforms in how it deals with incidents in which police officers kill or seriously injure civilians, a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado said today.


“Sixteen months ago the City administration announced what it billed as the most comprehensive police reforms ever undertaken in Denver,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. “One of those reforms was a new type of public report that the Manager of Safety would issue in every case in which a police use of force results in death or serious injury to a civilian.”


“Issuing these reports to the public was a great idea,” Silverstein continued. “But Denver police have shot at least four civilians since then, three fatally. Another civilian died in August, 2004, after Denver police used a taser. In none of these cases has the promised Manager of Safety reports been issued. It’s time for the Denver City administration to deliver on the commitment it made to the public.”


The new Manager of Safety reports are touted in a news release from December 16, 2003 that appears on the City’s web site with the headline “Mayor Hickenlooper Unveils Most Comprehensive Police Reforms in City History.” According to that news release, “in order to serve the public interest and provide information about review processes, the Manager of Safety will issue a public report after any DPD incident involving use of force that results in a citizen’s death or serious bodily injury.”


According to Silverstein, so far the Manager of Safety has issued only one report explaining a Denver Police Department use of force. That was the report issued in April, 2004, regarding the shooting death of Paul Childs by Officer James Turney in July, 2003. Another report is expected by the end of this month about the shooting of Frank Lobato by Officer Ranjan Ford in July, 2004.


After the shooting of Mr. Lobato, community activists called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate the Denver Police Department. In an effort to forestall that investigation, city officials wrote to DOJ and touted various measures they said they had already undertaken to improve police accountability. In that letter, Denver officials said they had adopted “a new requirement that the Manager of Safety will issue a public report on all incidents in which a citizen sustains serious injury or death at the hands of a Denver Police Officer.”


“Denver’s letter to the Department of Justice said that the report on the shooting of Paul Childs was the first of the new Manager of Safety reports,” Silverstein said. “Denver police shot four additional civilians in 2003 after the Childs shooting, and there were four additional shootings of civilians as of August, 2004. Six of these eight shootings were fatal. . The Manager of Safety has not issued a report on any of these eight shootings, nor on the additional taser-associated death in 2004.”


“The City administration has also promised to issue these new Manager of Safety reports about each police use of force in which a civilian suffers serious bodily injury,” Silverstein continued. “This is not limited to injuries by firearms. Not one of those reports has been issued either. Indeed, the Manager of Safety doesn’t even have a mechanism in place to ensure that he is notified of each case of death or serious bodily injury.”


“The ACLU calls on the City administration to fulfill its commitment to issue public reports on these serious police uses of force,” Silverstein concluded.

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