Denver OKs Payout Over Records In Racial Profiling Case

ACLU Defended 2 Men Denied Police Records About Traffic Stop

The Denver City Council agreed Monday night to pay $24,000 in attorneys fees to the ACLU after the Denver Police Department's refused to release internal affairs records in a 2009 racial profiling complaint.

In a lawsuit filed April 14, the American Civil Liberties Union accused Mary Dulacki, records coordinator for the Police Department, of violating state opens record law by denying two African-American men's request for internal records about a traffic stop they said involving racial profiling, excessive force and taunts with racial epithets.

City attorneys agreed to hand over many of the internal affairs documents and pay attorneys fees just before a June 4 hearing where the ACLU sought sanctions against the city for "abuse of discretion" in denying the records request, said Mark Silverstein, ACLU-Colorado legal director.

Now Silverstein is conferring with his clients, Ashford Wortham and Cornelius Campbell, to see if they want to continue their legal battle, including possibly suing the Police Department over the Feb. 13 traffic stop in Lower Downtown.

The ACLU learned from released records that the department reopened its internal affairs investigation of three officers -- Sgt. Perry Speelman, Officer Jesse Campion and Officer Tab Davis -- who made the traffic stop, Silverstein said. Initially, the Internal Affairs Bureau told Wortham that there wasn't sufficient evidence to sustain his complaint against the officers.

Wortham and Campbell accused the three white Denver officers of stopping their car without probable case, forcibly pulling them from the vehicle at gunpoint and improperly searching them.

"During this time, the officers aggressively insulted the men with racial epithets," the ACLU lawsuit in the records dispute stated. The ACLU said Speelman issued groundless citations against Wortham for failing to wear a seat belt, failing to come to a complete stop before turning at a red light and failing to sign his insurance card.

(Read the ACLU lawsuit over Denver Police Department's refusal to release internal affairs records. )

The two men didn't give up after internal affairs denied their complaint.

Acting as their own attorneys, they took their case to court -- and won.

In June 2009, Denver County Court Judge Aileen Ortiz-White dismissed all three charges against Worthham, saying the officers had no probable cause to stop them, according to court records.

The judge also ruled that the “police conduct was extreme, profane and racially motivated" and that Wortham and Campbell were “unlawfully detained for an unreasonable time and without reasonable suspicion," according to court records.

The judge specifically noted in an order that Speelman’s “credibility was seriously questioned based on his testimony about the location of the stop and details of the stop," according to the lawsuit.

The ACLU lawsuit noted that this isn't the first allegation of racial profiling against Speelman.

The city of Denver paid out a $75,000 racial profiling lawsuit settlement in 2004 in a case involving then-Officer Speelman and several other officers. That lawsuit found Speelman was the subject of 17 internal affairs investigations, many involving complaints of "unnecessary force" and "discourtesy," during the previous 10 years.

Despite that settlement, the Police Department later promoted Speelman to sergeant, the ACLU lawsuit noted.

After their court acquittal in the traffic case, Wortham and Campbell made the records request for the internal affairs investigation of the traffic stop.

The request was denied by records coordinator Dulacki, who wrote in a July 24, 2009, letter that disclosing the internal affairs document would be "contrary to the public interest," according to the lawsuit.

Dulacki stated that because the internal investigation did not sustain the complaint, the officers’ privacy interests outweighed the public interest in understanding the basis of the Internal Affairs Bureau's decision, the lawsuit said.

The ACLU lawsuit countered that the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act “favors making the record available for inspection" by the public.

The lawsuit cited repeated court rulings agreeing that "the public has a strong interest in assessing the truthfulness of allegations of official misconduct, and whether agencies that are responsible for investigating and adjudicating complaints of misconduct have acted properly and wisely."

The ACLU hammered home that, while internal affairs investigators found no evidence of police misconduct, a judge had.

"Particularly here, where the IAB found no wrongdoing but the trial court judge found the officers’ conduct to be 'extreme, profane and racially motivated,' the public is entitled to know the facts (as determined by the department’s investigation) that serve as the basis for its conclusion and official position," the lawsuit argued.