Denver protests: City Council calls for investigation of police

Every council member backs a review of DPD’s use-of-force tactics in light of recent protests in Denver over police brutality.

Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen marches and speaks with demonstrators on Monday, June 1, 2020, as they peacefully protest the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. (Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen marches and speaks with demonstrators on Monday, June 1, 2020, as they peacefully protest the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. (Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

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On June 8, Denver City Council unanimously called for an investigation into the police department’s use-of-force tactics during recent protests.

Council sent the Office of the Independent Monitor, the civilian-led agency that oversees investigations into police, a letter asking that it review the Denver Police Department’s use of riot gear and equipment, chemical agents, rubber bullets and other crowd control measures and the department’s handling of community complaints against police officers at protests.

Councilman Paul Kashmann, who heads the council committee that oversees the city’s Department of Safety, said he’s spoken with colleagues about an investigation after videos circulating social media that have shown police targeting protesters with crowd-control tactics.

The Office of the Independent Monitor has received at least 150 complaints related to alleged police misconduct at protests. But Independent Monitor Nick Mitchell pointed out many are duplicates and some relate to DPD’s overall approach to protests, not specific incidents.

The OIM forward complaints it receives to Internal Affairs Bureau of DPD (or the sheriffs department). The IAB is comprised of high-ranking law enforcement investigators, who get in contact with the person who filed the complaint to gather evidence, which can include eyewitness accounts, video, photos or medical records. The investigator also collects body worn camera footage from officers.

The OIM gathers all the information then makes recommendations to the head of the Department of Safety as to whether a case should be mediated or whether an officer should be disciplined. The head of the safety department decides the outcome of the case with input from the police department.

Kashmann has invited police chief Paul Pazen and Department of Safety head Murphy Robinson to speak about use of force at the council’s safety committee. Pazen and Mayor Michael Hancock have said DPD has used restraint in interactions with protesters.

Protests began Thursday, May 28, in Denver over the death of George Floyd and police brutality.

“I’ve put the idea forward to some of my colleagues in the past couple of days, and have had general agreement in the appropriateness of such an investigation,” Kashmann said in an email.

Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca sent a separate letter to Mitchell and Robinson, calling on an investigation into DPD’s tactics at the protest.

“We are also formally requesting that Safety Director Murphy Robinson provide a public report examining the militarized police presence, where numerous law enforcement agencies from surrounding counties, as well as the National Guard, were called in,” the letter, signed by local social justice organizers, read.

We’ve reached out to the police department for comment.

Clerk and Recorder Paul Lopez attended the protests Friday, Saturday and Monday night.

The former Denver City Council member helped iron out details on the department’s use-of-force policy, the document that lays out how law enforcement can use lethal and non-lethal force, including demanding that community input be incorporated.

He said he saw a lack of discipline from protesters and police but emphasized that officers did not utilize deescalation tactics.

“Friday night I was legally observing,” he said. “Without provocation, without warning, we were targeted. I was standing amongst journalists and another councilman and a staff member of mine, and a gas canister flew our way (police were using tear gas to disperse crowds). Somebody pulled the pin and let us have it. We weren’t in the crowd, we were kind of behind and what I thought was a neutral area, and next thing you know, a canister comes flying.”

Lopez, a longtime community organizer, said the public expects a riot when they see officers in riot gear.

However, “there’s deescalation on both sides,” he said. “It’s multifaceted in the confrontation. Deescalation is something that needs to take place all around. We should do our best as a city to make sure there is no escalation on our part. That was not exercised that night.”

This story has been updated with comment from the OIM, Lopez and CdeBaca and council’s letter to the OIM.

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