40 complaints against 1 Denver officer who may cost city over $1M; DPD says 'the department failed'

DENVER - Over nine years, one officer of the Denver Police Department has accumulated 40 complaints but was never punished for more than two days. Now, the city is considering an $860,000 settlement for complaint No. 12 -- a case in which the officer was never disciplined at all. 

Denver has already settled another case involving the same officer for $225,000 in 2011. 

Officer Shawn Miller is temporarily assigned to work a desk job as the city takes the formal step of presenting the proposed settlement to city council for approval.

"The warning signs were being flashed at us," said DPD spokesman Matt Murray. "The problem is what we did with them after we got the warning signs."

Miller was hired by the department in 2005, but this is the first time that police have made public the internal affairs files covering his 40 complaints.

Of the 39 complaints investigated so far, 17 cited excessive force -- including the complaint that will likely cost taxpayers $860,000.

That settlement was proposed just a month after the end of 2014, a year during which the City of Denver paid out more than $9 million in settlements for abuse cases. 

"Because he gets 39 complaints doesn't automatically mean he's going to get disciplined," Murray said. "What it should automatically mean is that the department is doing something proactive to change that behavior."

Ten times between 2007 and 2010, Miller's behavior resulted in an automatic performance review. In 2009, he was reviewed for three or more use of force complaints received in a period of three months. The same pattern triggered a review in 2010.

Records show that supervisors recommended the department did not need to respond to Miller's performance.

7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger asked police, "Did the system fail for this officer?"

"What I would say is this: The warning system worked. We were warned, but the department failed," Murray replied. "We didn't follow through in a way to help correct his behavior to prevent a situation where what we're facing now, where we have liability on the city and liability on the department."

7NEWS first reported on Miller in 2010, when a confrontation with a disabled woman was caught on surveillance camera. After she hesitated to let him into the lobby of her apartment, he is seen pointing, grabbing at the mail in her hand and put his hands on her shoulders to move her aside.

Miller and the woman disappear from the recording inside of an elevator, but she is in handcuffs when they reemerge.

Records show his conduct was considered "detrimental to an innocent citizen" and documents said it "tarnishes the image of the department."

That was complaint No. 32, and it led to the most severe punishment of Miller's career: two days without pay.

In fact, Miller was never punished for any of the 17 excessive force complaints.

"What does that say," Zelinger asked, "that the city's paying $850,000 for something he didn't get punished for internally?"

"Some of our cases, unfortunately Marshall, and it's a real pattern and it's a real difficulty, involve complainants who won't participate, who won't help us investigate the officer."

James Moore was one of those who didn't cooperate in the original investigation. In fact, Moore's friend was the one who originally reported that Miller had used excessive force during the 2008 arrest.

Moore was injured so badly that his heart briefly stopped, according to his attorney. But because he never worked with the internal affairs bureau's investigation, Miller was never punished.

"We can't fix the errors, if people won't participate and help us do that," the department spokesman said.

Court records show Moore and the city reached a tentative agreement for the $860,000 settlement during a court hearing at the end of January.

Under the leadership of Police Chief Robert White, the department says it has changed the way it responds to performance reviews. Where Miller's behavior triggered reviews but never led to corrective action, DPD now says all officers who trigger a review will be assigned to work on fixing the issue.

"It really just says, I don't care if you were right or wrong, this can't go on and you're going to have to do something about it and here's the plan to get you there," said Murray.

Complaints against Miller have declined dramatically since he was transferred out of downtown to the southeast part of the city in late 2012. But In 2013, surveillance video again captured an incident of alleged misconduct.

Miller was responding to a restaurant on East Colfax where the owner had sprayed two men with mace. Miller handcuffed and questioned the person who called 911 and is accused of treating that person roughly.

Because a complaint was not filed until this month, that incident became the latest complaint -- No. 40.

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