Denver report says officer-involved shootings up; previous inmate grievances being addressed

DENVER - Denver's annual report by the city's independent monitor contains updates about what the police and sheriff's offices are doing to address two safety-related issues in the city.

Previously, the Denver Sheriff's Department was found to overlook protocol in addressing deputy misconduct for officers using inappropriate force, including sexual harassment, against inmates. Thursday's annual report  from the Office of the Independent Monitor brought few updates to that issue, and raised another: 11 officer-involved shootings happened last year in Denver, continuing an increase in these incidents over the past three years.

-- Officer-involved shootings

In 2011, there were four officer-involved shootings and eight in 2012.

"In six of the 2013 shootings, the community members were displaying behavior that suggests the possibility that they were mentally ill during the police contact that led to the shootings," Nicholas E. Mitchell wrote in the report.

No charges were filed against any of the officers who discharged their weapons, but one officer was terminated for violating multiple rules.

In previous years, the Office of the Independent Monitor recommended that the police and sheriff's departments address how to best respond to individuals suffering from "excited delirium." The condition, which often affects mental illness patients, can cause aggressiveness, paranoia, hallucinations and disorientation - all descriptions that could be applied to the six incidents referenced by Mitchell.

One incident involved a youth who was armed with multiple knives and was stabbing a door. The youth was shoeless and "looked a little disturbed," according to a witness.

"During the short stand-off, the officers repeatedly asked the juvenile to drop the knives, however, he refused and told officers they would have to shoot him," Mitchell wrote.

According to the report, the young man motioned as if he was going to throw a knife at the officers, who did not open fire. Shortly after, officers believed the young man had potential to harm other civilians on the scene, and shot him more than once. He survived.

Another incident brought officers to a Veteran's Administration residential home, where a man was armed with a large pair of scissors and acted threateningly toward officers, who shot him multiple times. He also survived.

On Feb. 14, the Denver Police Department issued a new protocol for safety officers who respond to incidents involving actual or potential excited delirium. The training bulletin instructs officers to note any indicators of the condition and restrain subjects, if necessary, from harming themselves or others.

"Physical force needs to be fast and overwhelming," the protocol states. "The struggle needs to end as soon as possible. The longer the struggle lasts, the more intensely the subject will fight back and the worse his medical risk will become."

There are no references to or directions for using a firearm in the protocol.

-- Addressing inmate grievances

In December, 7NEWS reported on the OIM's semiannual report, which stated that the DSD wasn't following proper procedures in addressing deputy misconduct since 2011. According to the semiannual report, many inmate grievances of officers choking inmates, sexually harassing them and using racial slurs were never investigated.

The annual report released Thursday stated that Denver Sheriff Gary Wilson has created a task force to address the 47 "serious" inmate grievances identified by the OIM. Those 47 complaints were aggregated by OIM in a review of less than 15 percent of the total filings received by the Denver jail system. About 6,000 inmate complaints were filed in two and a half years.

The OIM does expect progress in addressing inmate grievances.

"We believe that Sheriff Wilson’s grievance task force will make marked improvements to the grievance process, and we look forward to working with the DSD and further reporting on those changes in the future," Mitchell wrote.

Additionally, video recording of public areas inside the jails is being considered to help improve safety. One project plans to install more than 180 video cameras in the County Jail. The Downtown Detention Center currently has video coverage of many public jail areas. 

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