DENVER - A new lawsuit accusing a Denver deputy of slamming a shackled inmate face-first into a wall in court is seeking $5 million in damages and asking the federal courts to take over supervision of the city jail system.
The federal lawsuit, filed Wednesday by former inmate Anthony Waller, poses new challenges for a Denver Sheriff's Department that's been rocked by a string of high-profile inmate complaints, bolstered by a barrage of security videos showing deputies brutalizing inmates.
Denver has tentatively approved a $3.25 million settlement to former jail inmate Jamal Hunter -- which is expected to be a record payout for the city. The Hunter lawsuit's revelations of brutality and corruption by deputies at the Downtown Detention Center led Sheriff Gary Wilson to step down on July 21.
Waller's lawsuit accuses the city and sheriff's officials of violating his constitutional rights, including his "right under the Fourth and Eighth Amendments to be free from excessive force amounting to cruel and unusual punishment."
The lawsuit names the city, Lovingier and sheriff's Captain Gina McCall as defendants. It accuses Lovingier and McCall of having Waller "falsely arrested and maliciously prosecuted in an effort to cover up the brutal, unprovoked attack upon Mr. Waller during his court appearance."
Echoing the Hunter case, the Waller lawsuit asserts that "the use of excessive force by the Denver Sheriff’s Department (DSD) and Denver Police Department (DPD) is a systemic problem, existing in Denver for decades."
Arguing that the city is "incapable of stopping the use of excessive force by its law enforcement," the lawsuit seeks an injunction to have the U.S. District Court supervise the sheriff's department operation of Denver's jail system.
"The widespread, accepted use of excessive force by the [Denver Sheriff's Department] underscores that the lack of proper training, investigation, discipline and ultimately the lack of effective leadership are deep-seated, ingrained behavior resulting in rampant, continuing constitutional violations that require Federal Court intervention," the lawsuit states.
The video in Waller incident is stunning because it shows Deputy Brady Lovingier grabbing defendant Anthony Waller, whose hands are shackled to a waist chain and feet are hobbled by leg irons, and slamming him into a wall in front of a judge in open court.
The incident happened on Sept. 11, 2012 as Waller was being advised of charges against him by County Court Judge Doris Burd.
According to a hearing transcript, Waller and the judge exchanged "good mornings" to each other in the courtroom that was empty except for court staff, four deputies and a police detective.
As the judge was advising Waller, the defendant said, "I’d like to object to her [the alleged victim's] story. If I’m under investigation, I thought the investigation came first, then the arrest came…"
As the Judge began to reply, Deputy Lovingier, standing behind Waller, gripped a "belly chain" around the man's waist and gestured for him to step toward the clerk's desk to complete paperwork, according to disciplinary hearing documents for Lovingier.
Waller turned to say something to the deputy and Lovingier pulled the shackled inmate backward, causing him to lose his balance, records state. The deputy then spun Waller around and "shoved him face-first into a wall," The documents state.
"As a result of the Plaintiff Waller being chained and shackled he could not use his hands or feet to lessen the impact of his face and head being rammed directly into the glass wall and metal post by the Defendant Lovingier. Mr. Waller collapsed to the floor, seriously injured," the lawsuit states.
Lovingier yelled at the fallen defendant, "You don't turn on me!" and "Get on your feet, get on your FEET," according to the disciplinary document. "I don't give a s--- [indistinct] you are. You're not punking me! You're not tripping me!" the deputy shouted.
Waller was transported by ambulance to a hospital. The lawsuit says the man suffered a "deep head laceration, closed head injury and left orbital blowout fracture and injuries to his back, neck, legs, arms, ankles, including a hernia and his teeth were knocked out."
Waller told 7NEWS Reporter Marc Stewart that day in court haunts him.
"It's still upsetting to me to this day," Waller said. "You're just going to snatch me, and slam, just savage, like you didn't care? Like, oh, if I kill you it's no problem?" Waller asked.
"If the citizenry does nothing, you know, this is going to continue. Citizens should be afraid," he warned.
The city Department of Safety suspended Lovingier for 30 days for violating departmental rules, including using inappropriate force, neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the good order and effectiveness of the department.
The deputy appealed the punishment. He testified at the Career Service Authority appeal hearing that the judge had signaled to him that she was finished with the advisement of Waller. The deputy also said that Waller had a history of acting aggressively, he was yelling at the judge and that Waller had pushed back into him.
The deputy said "Waller posed an imminent threat to this safety and the safety of others," according to disciplinary documents.
Judge Burd, however, testified against Lovingier at his appeal, saying Waller posed no threat to anyone in the court room.
"Burd found Waller's tone was not raised, not angry and not confrontational," a CSA hearing officer wrote in an April 2014 ruling upholding the deputy's 30-day suspension. The judge also denied signaling to the deputy that Waller's court hearing was over.
Judge Burd testified that "it was the first time in her 25 years on the bench that she saw a deputy throw an inmate into a wall, and [she] believed it was a form of punishment," according to the CSA hearing officer's ruling.
In rejecting the deputy's appeal, the hearing officer wrote: "Public safety was not in jeopardy at the time Lovingier shoved Waller face-first in to the wall."
Denver City Attorney Scott Martinez told 7NEWS he takes the Waller lawsuit seriously.
"We take every claim and lawsuit seriously and this case is no different," Martinez told 7NEWS. "We will analyze the particular facts of this case and provide a timely response to this complaint through the court system."