DENVER - Over the objections of Denver officials, a federal judge on Thursday unsealed police and sheriff internal affairs' records in a lawsuit alleging brutality and corruption in the Denver jail and witness intimidation by police.
The documents describe a chaotic Denver 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 revelations spring from a federal lawsuit by inmate Jamal Hunter, who accuses 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 alleges 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.
Soon after Hunter returned to jail from the hospital, documents allege that another deputy, Edward Keller, got fed up with the inmate complaining about his pain and inadequate medical care.
The records say Hunter called Keller a racist and then a surveillance video shows Keller choking Hunter's neck as he shoved the injured inmate 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, records state.
The video doesn't show Hunter resisting or physically threatening any deputies.
Hunter wrote in a complaint that Keller "lost control of himself and attack [sic] me, choking, punching and body slamming me without cause."
Hunter's lawsuit names the City of Denver and deputies Rumer and Keller as defendants.
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.
Keller was given a 30-day suspension for excessive use of force that "involved a demonstrable serious risk to the inmate," a report stated.
The jail brutality case came under greater scrutiny in January, when the city's Independent Monitor, Nicholas Mitchell, read inmates' sworn statements in Hunter's lawsuit accusing Deputy Rumer of regularly being drunk on the job, selling pot and other contraband to inmates and fueling inmate-on-inmate violence.
In a sworn statement filed in the lawsuit Thursday, Mitchell said he told Sheriff Gary Wilson and Denver Police Internal Affairs Bureau Cmdr. Ron Thomas the inmates' affidavits "contain serious allegations of criminal conduct by Deputy Gaynel Rumer and possibly other deputies." At the monitor's recommendation, the sheriff and the Police Internal Affairs Bureau began a criminal investigation into Rumer's actions.
In one affidavit, a key witness, former jail inmate Amos Page, told how he caught Rumer drinking a "thermos full of straight vodka" one day. Page said he told Rumer he wouldn't turn him in to superiors if the deputy brought him a pack of Newport cigarettes and a lighter. Rumer complied.
"After that, we went into business," Page wrote in the sworn statement.
Page said Rumer would bring in porn magazines and Page would sell them to other inmates for $3 a page. Soon, the inmate said he was buying pornographic magazines from Rumer for $10 in soda machine tokens -- inmate currency.
Page said he also became the deputy's enforcer in the pod.
"Rumer would let me control the pod," wrote Page, an inmate "trustee" who could freely roam the pod.
"Rumer would often feed me information about other inmates," Page said. "We knew who were the sex offenders. Rumer would tell us who was snitching."
"If Rumer didn't like an inmate, he would approach me and tell me to take care of it," Page said in his affidavit. "I was his muscle."
"Rumer would allow me to give other inmates violations such as '50 punches to the chin' or 'straight up two minutes' (with four homies)," Page said.
Page claimed that Rumer arranged for the beatdowns to happen in a cleaning closet or the shower, often turning off the lights.
"Rumer would unlock the cell of the person when everyone else was on lockdown. Since four of us in my cell were trustees, our door would not be locked during the day," Page said in the affidavit. "Everyone in my cell would come out, and my little homies would take care of that inmate."
Page said Rumer incited inmates to attack Hunter in July 2011 by stoking rumors that Hunter, who had just returned from a court appearance, was informing on fellow inmates.
"Rumer went over the top about Hunter snitching," Page said in the affidavit. "He was clearly trying to 'pour gas' on a fire."
In court records, Rumer denies the inmates' allegations against him.
The jail abuse lawsuit drew big headlines this week, after U.S. District Court Judge John L. Kane said he was asking the U.S. Attorney to investigate allegations that two Denver Police Internal Affairs sergeants -- Brian Cotter and Brad Lenderink -- tried to intimidate witness Amos Page during a March interview at Crowley Correctional Institution, where Page is serving time.
During a June 6 hearing, Hunter's attorneys accused the investigators of trying to intimidate an "indispensable witness" by threatening Page with felony criminal prosecution if he testified in the lawsuit against the city.
Among the documents Kane unsealed on Thursday is a transcript of the police investigators' audio recording of their interview with Page.
During the interview, the sergeants tell Page they're not investigating him for committing crimes, they're trying to check out his stories about Deputy Rumer.
"We're not looking to put you in jail," one sergeant says.
However, several times investigators tell Page he's implicating himself in felony crimes in his affidavit when he describes his partnership with Rumer selling porn, pot and cigarettes and how Page did nothing to prevent the inmates' attack on Hunter.
"You implicate yourself in a felony crime that happened in jail," one sergeant says in the audio transcript, which doesn't identify which investigator is speaking.
During the recent hearing, Judge Kane said that the Denver Police Department had never filed a case about jail abuse allegations and the Denver District Attorney's Office twice declined to prosecute in the attacks on Hunter.
But after inmates' affidavits alleging deputy misconduct appeared in the lawsuit, the judge noted that Denver police internal affairs began investigating Rumer in February -- nearly three years after he choked Hunter in jail.
"I think it…smacks of a sham to suggest that the Internal Affairs Bureau of the Denver Police Department was investigating any kind of a case for criminal activity on the part of the affiants, on the part of Mr. Page, or on the part of the plaintiff [Hunter] in this case," Kane said in court. "The investigations had already been taken place, such as they were, and…decisions were made not to continue with prosecution."
"The recording and the transcript of it show a deliberate process of intimidation of Amos Page, who is an essential witness to this case," the judge added.
Kane, who had overseen several excessive force lawsuits against DPD, said he wants the U.S. Attorney to investigate "the pattern and practice of the Denver Police Department and the Denver Sheriff's Office."
On Thursday, Denver Police Chief Robert White told our partners at the Denver Post he is confident his internal affairs officers did nothing wrong. He said it is not unusual for the police department's internal affairs officers to investigate complaints at the sheriff's office or other city agencies.
"We welcome the investigation if the judge deems it appropriate, and we're pretty comfortable with the conduct of the officers," the chief said. "I'm pretty comfortable the outcome will be OK.
Read the a transcript of the hearing where federal Judge John L. Kane says he'll ask the U.S. Attorney's Office to investigate the "pattern and practice of the Denver Police Department and the Denver Sheriff's Office." http://ch7ne.ws/TQoJrU
Read the transcript of Denver police internal affairs' investigators interviewing key witness Amos Page. http://ch7ne.ws/1saacXb
Read former jail inmate Amos Page's affidavit about corruption and brutality inside the Denver jail http://ch7ne.ws/1lrRJjC
Read a Denver Police Internal Affairs Investigation Summary of alleged jail deputy misconduct. http://ch7ne.ws/1ojv38X