No points, tickets for police officers in Denver after multiple at-fault crashes

Officers still driving after as many as 10 crashes

DENVER - A CALL7 investigation has found some police officers in Colorado are never sent to court after they are found at fault for car crashes, keeping their driving histories out of Division of Motor Vehicle records -- and keeping many victims in the dark.

CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia found officers still behind the wheel after as many as 10 preventable crashes.

POLICIES VARY

In Greenwood Village, an officer who was distracted by a radio call and turned into oncoming traffic did go to court. He paid an $83.50 fine and received three points on his public DMV record, according to Greenwood Village Police Department policy. Neither he nor the other driver were seriously injured.

Douglas County Undersheriff Tony Spurlock was in his own at-fault crash recently.  He rear-ended a Lexus stopped in front of him at a traffic light.

"The turn arrows turned green, and I noticed, you know, I saw motion, of the oncoming cars moving. And I just let off my foot off the brake," he said.

Like the Greenwood Village officer, and like any civilian, Spurlock got a ticket and went to court.

"It cost me $116 of my own money, and two points on my driving privilege," he said.

The crash was also internally reviewed by the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, and Spurlock was assigned to remedial driving training.

"I think the important part of it is that law enforcement should be treated just like everyone else," said Spurlock. "Your record shows up in the department of motor vehicles, so why wouldn't mine?"

 

 

INTERNAL REVIEWS

But when a Denver Police officer ran a stop sign and hit Richard Kusk's SUV, it was a very different story. Both vehicles were heavily damaged, and the officer didn't get a ticket.

"Never went to court with the officer," Kusk told Ferrugia. "I've never had any contact with him. The only contact I had was with the detective that was on scene."

The same was true for Wendy Dyson, after another Denver officer, who wasn't paying attention, slammed into the side of her car.

"He had evidently caught somebody speeding and went to pull out, and hit my passenger front end," Dyson said.

The CALL7 Investigators found more than 300 crashes in 2011, 2012, and 2013 that DPD found the officers involved could have prevented.

Like most law enforcement agencies, the department reviews each crash internally. But no third party agency was called into investigate, and the officers were not issued tickets.

Denver isn't alone. Police departments in Aurora, Lakewood, and Golden have similar policies. Crashes are reviewed by the departments, and officers are subject to discipline.

Under DPD policy, that can include reprimands, fined time, suspensions, and "more stringent action as appropriate," depending on the number of points on an officer's internal driving record. But fellow DPD employees investigate each crash and assign those points, and nothing older than 24 months counts against an officer's record.

"It's shocking. It's disappointing, disturbing. Just like I'm saying I wanted someone to show some accountability for what happened to me that day," Kusk said." And it didn't happen."

The officer who hit Dyson had a record of preventable crashes going back to 1986 that included nine previous at-fault accidents. But Dyson didn't know that, because the officer's driving history wasn't in DMV records.

Attorney Kyle Bacchus handles personal injury cases. Bacchus told the CALL7 Investigators that's important information for crash victims to have, and by not going to court, a police department can avoid liability.

"If they're doing that off grid, as a citizen, a private citizen … you have now a limited ability to really discern whether that police officer should or shouldn't have been on the road," said Bacchus.

TOUGH QUESTIONS

The CALL7 Investigators repeatedly asked Denver Police Chief Robert White to discuss this public policy question, but he refused, instead sending one of DPD's media relations employees.

"Does the Chief believe that an officer who has as many as seven accidents, at fault, in seven years, he should still have his license, be able to drive for the department?" Ferrugia asked.

"Each case is individual, so we look at it through the conduct review," said Sgt. Steve Warneke.

"Does the Chief believe that officers should be treated differently, as they are now, than citizens, and not get tickets and not go to court?" Ferrugia asked.

"We don't know the answer to that John, because we are in the process of evaluating whether or not the current system is a good fit for Denver or whether or not it's a bad fit for Denver," said Warneke.

But he could not explain when the review started, when it will end, or who has been assigned to carry it out, and a CALL7 request for all documents, emails, or memos regarding that evaluation revealed no specific review.

The department provided one slide reflecting the timeline for a general revision of DPD's Operations Manual. Department officials said the slide had been presented last week.

 

Mobile users can click here to see an explanation of how drivers accumulate points against their licenses. http://ch7ne.ws/1lcWOvW

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