DENVER - Denver city attorneys have reached a $3.25 million settlement with a former jail inmate whose mistreatment was allegedly covered up.
The exact amount of the settlement was announced Tuesday afternoon in a joint press conference with Denver City Attorney Scott Martinez and Qusair Mohamedbhai, the attorney representing former inmate Jamal Hunter.
Hunter's lawsuit named as defendants the City and County of Denver and two jail deputies. It described an out-of-control jail pod, where a deputy is accused of getting drunk and using porn, directing beatings of inmates, and selling pot and porn to inmates.
"The settlement, which is not an admission of liability, will next need to be approved by city council and then by U.S. District Court," Martinez said. "The parties agree the settlement will allow the city to address the allegations at hand. On behalf of the administration, it will permit us to move forward and looks to the future for the sincere reform necessary to ensure the public trust."
"This settlement is an embarkment (sic) on change and Mr. Hunter is extraordinarily proud to have had his voice heard and to be an instrument of change," Mohamedbhai said during his brief statement in the news conference. "We take the Mayor at his word that he is committed to making positive changes and we hope that the City and County of Denver will take the issues of inmate safety and wellbeing seriously."
7NEWS Anchor Eric Kahnert asked Martinez, "This is the one of the largest settlements in the history of Denver, $3.25 million. You call that 'fiscally responsible.' How do you think the taxpayers feel about that verbiage?"
"Every general council has to make a decision regarding the particular facts of the case, the cost of the case, the potential fees and the uncertainty that arises out of the case. After analyzing all of those facts, we've decided that settlement is the most prudent course of action going forward," Martinez answered. "And more importantly, this allows us to move forward with those reforms we've been talking about this week."
Before the press conference, Mayor Michael Hancock and City Council were briefed on the proposed settlement during an executive session.
The lawsuit was a festering embarrassment for the city and the Denver Sheriff's Department and Police Department.
Hunter accused Deputy Gaynel Rumer of encouraging a brutal 2011 attack where inmates in an eight-man cell beat Hunter unconscious and burned his thighs and genitals with cups of scalding water.
The lawsuit alleged Rumer ignored Hunter's screams and even turned off the lights in the cell to give the attackers cover. Along with the burns, Hunter suffered fractures to his face.
Thirteen days after Hunter returned to jail from the hospital, documents allege another deputy, Edward Keller, got fed up with Hunter complaining about his pain and inadequate medical care.
The records say Hunter called Keller a racist and then a surveillance video showed Keller choking Hunter's neck as he shoved the injured inmate down onto a cell bunk. Three other deputies rushed in to help pin Hunter to the floor as a fifth deputy shocked the fallen inmate twice with a Taser stun gun.
In the video, Hunter doesn't resist or attack the deputies.
Hunter wrote in a complaint that Keller "lost control of himself and attack [sic] me, choking, punching and body slamming me without cause."
City attorneys feared, if Hunter's lawsuit went to trial, testimony by inmates would "paint an egregious picture" of what was happening in the Denver jail, according to an email from Assistant City Attorney Stuart Shapiro to a Denver police internal affairs sergeant that was released in court documents.
In the email, Shapiro described allegations contained in inmates' sworn statements as "an attack on Denver, its law enforcement agencies and the Denver jails."
Hunter's lawyers accused city attorneys of trying to use two International Affairs Bureau (IAB) investigators to discredit inmates' "contrived" accounts of deputies' misconduct in the jail, according to documents. The police department had assigned the detectives to investigate possible criminal conduct by Deputy Rumer.
"If allegations in the [inmates'] affidavits were true, it would be a very serious situation. The IAB investigation will be greatly important to Denver and its residents, and the public at large," Shapiro emailed the internal affairs sergeant.
Martinez's statement Tuesday announced that Shapiro is currently on investigatory leave because of the allegations of litigation misconduct. An independent review of Shapiro's conduct was also ordered, Martinez said.
Earlier in the day, U.S. District Judge John L. Kane had confirmed to CALL7 Investigator Theresa Marchetta that a cash settlement had been reached in the case.
Attorneys had informed the judge of the proposed settlement because Kane needed to rule on a Monday request by Hunter's attorneys to withdraw a June 26 motion seeking additional sanctions against Denver city attorneys accused of pressuring witnesses to not testify and failing to disclose evidence.
Hunter's attorney, however, requested in the motion that "this withdrawal be without prejudice so [Hunter] may have leave to refile the Motion if it becomes necessary." Kane granted the motion.
Kane told 7NEWS that the questions of "injunctive remedies and sanctions for discovery abuse" [against city attorneys] remain open in the case -- even if a financial settlement with Hunter is reached.
Revelations in the abuse case led directly to the resignation Monday of Sheriff Gary Wilson and an investigation by independent monitor Nick Mitchell revealing scores of inmate grievances that hadn't been properly investigated.
The sheriff's office gave Rumer a 40-day suspension for introducing and distributing pornography and marijuana in the jail pod, complicity in inmates "unlawfully" brewing homemade "hooch" in their cell and "use of inmates to implement informal physical discipline," according to a Denver Police Internal Affairs Bureau investigative report.