A Denver Civil Service Commission panel has reinstated a detective who was fired for lying about failing to follow a tip in a high-profile Stapleton hit-and-run case involving a pregnant woman.
A Denver Civil Service Commission hearing panel reinstated Detective Jay Estrada with back pay and seniority after ruling that then-Manager of Safety Charles Garcia failed to prove Estrada committed a "materially deceptive act."
Estrada was fired last June for allegedly committing a deceptive act.
The ruling by the independent three-member panel stated that it was undisputed that Estrada lied repeatedly to his supervisors, denying that he'd received a call from a patrol officer about the traffic stop and seizure of sport utility vehicle suspected of being the hit-and-run vehicle.
But the panel said it legally wasn't a "materially" deceptive act that impacted the investigation, because it was later determined the SUV from the traffic stop was not involved in the hit-and-run.
However, the hearing panel upheld a finding that Estrada made misleading or inaccurate statements and upheld his 16-day suspension without pay for that violation.
The hearing officers also sustained Estrada's fine of 16 hours pay for violating department rules regarding the duties and responsibilities of detectives.
Denver Manager of Safety Alex J. Martinez issued a statement on Tuesday afternoon disagreeing with the panel's ruling and saying he had asked the City Attorney's Office to appeal Estrada's reinstatement.
Although the Office of the Manager of Safety respects the authority of the Civil Service Hearing Officers, we disagree with their ruling in the Estrada case," Martinez said in the statement.
"Once again, the hearing officers have misunderstood the nature of deceptive conduct; in this case, the concept of materiality. In this offices view, the conduct was material even if it would not have changed the outcome of the investigation. We do not tolerate deceptive conduct and we will continue to impose appropriate discipline," Martinez's statement concluded.
The Denver Police Protective Association, however, issued a statement applauding the "unbiased and independent" hearing panel for its "fair and reasonable" decision.
The Estrada case centered on his handling of the tip in the Dec. 9, 2010, hit-and-run of Laurie Gorham Sherlock.
Sherlock, then 27, was hit by a small, dark sport utility vehicle or a truck with a camper shell as she crossed a street in Stapleton at night. She was dragged under the vehicle's wheels, and her near-term baby boy was delivered in an emergency surgery and later died.
Police have not made an arrest in the case.
Estrada was on the traffic-accident investigation team at the time.
Three days after the hit-and-run, Estrada was the on-duty night detective about 12:30 a.m. when Denver and Aurora patrol officers stopped a SUV with body damage that they thought might have been involved in the hit-and-run.
Dispatchers put the Denver patrol officer in radio contact with Estrada and their conversation was automatically recorded, according to the hearing panel report.
The officer then made a phone call to Estrada and relayed details of the traffic stop, including that Aurora police were impounding the dark green Ford Explorer with damage to the passenger-door mirror because the driver had no license.
Estrada didn't believe it was the hit-and-run vehicle, the report said. He told the patrol officer to file a form about the traffic stop with the lead hit-and-run case investigator.
Aurora police complained to their Denver counterparts about the detective failing to respond on the seized SUV, the report said.
Estrada returned from a day off and he was anxious about getting in trouble when he learned the suspect SUV was impounded at the Denver police traffic operations center, the report said.
According to the hearing decision, it is undisputed that Estrada lied three times to supervisors, denying getting the call from a patrol officer.
Estrada even told his sergeant that he "was angry about being falsely accused by this officer," the report said.
But when the detective's lieutenant played for him the dispatch recording of Estrada's radio conversation with the patrol officer, Estrada confessed to lying about the tip and apologized, according to the report.
Estrada later said that he'd been stressed about family problems he'd been having for seven months and this caused him to have a lack of focus and make poor decisions at work. He told a police psychologist that "he had never been known to make such a terrible decision."
In the end, the SUV was found to not be involved in the hit-and-run.
And the hearing panel decided that, while Estrada repeatedly lied to his supervisors, he had not committed a "materially deceptive act" that impacted the investigation.
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