Federal charges rare against police officers

DENVER - A federal judge has taken the unusual step of asking prosecutors to investigate whether Denver police tried to intimidate a witness in a jail-abuse suit against the city.

The U.S. Attorney's Office hasn't said whether it will pursue Judge John Kane's request.

Experts say such inquiries rarely yield criminal charges.

Nancy Leong, an associate professor at the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law, says the cases are a challenge for prosecutors, who have to prove not just that an officer violated someone's civil rights but that they intended to.

The latest allegations against the police and sheriff's departments came as part of a civil rights lawsuit filed in Denver by former inmate Jamal Hunter, who says a sheriff's deputy not only failed to protect him during a July 2011 beating by fellow inmates but encouraged the attack.

-- See the video: http://ch7ne.ws/1mSzKQy

In the attack, caught on video, Deputy Edward Keller is seen shoving Hunter, grabbing him by the neck and choking him down onto a cell bunk.  Three other deputies join Keller in pinning Hunter on the cell floor while a fifth deputy, Sgt. Anthony Mazzei, twice shocks the inmate with a Taser stun gun.

The video doesn't show Hunter resisting or physically threatening any deputies.

The sheriff's review found "this incident involved a demonstrable, serious risk to the inmate."

Keller received a 30-day suspension for using excessive force and is now named in a civil suit brought by Hunter against the city of Denver.

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