Police Camera Pans Away As Officers Subdue Suspect

CALL7 Investigators Exclusive: Video That Raises Questions About Police, Camera Actions

Denver’s Office of the Independent Monitor and Denver Police are clashing over whether officers should be fired in the apparent beating of two men in Lodo -- an incident captured on police video. The video was obtained by CALL7 Investigators.

Independent Monitor Richard Rosenthal is recommending that the officers be fired, but Denver new Manager of Safety Ron Perea only disciplined the officers for filing an inaccurate police report about the April 4, 2009 incident.

There are also questions of whether the police H.A.L.O. camera was attempting to cover up the incident since it panned away as the officers were subduing the man, identified as Michael DeHerrera of Pueblo.

Perea wrote in report that the “video alone is inflammatory, however when the entirety of the situation” is known the officers should not be fired.

“The officer there attempts to execute an arm bar take down -- it doesn’t go perfectly,” Perea told CALL7 Investigator Tony Kovaleski. “Unfortunately, the individual falls, he falls hard on this face and there are injuries.

“When you look at it in its entirely, and see what occurred, I don’t believe the officers acted excessively,” he added.

Prior to DeHerrera, 24, and his friend, Shawn Johnson, 25, of Denver, being in camera view, they pushed the officers and the officers likely feared that they would be assaulted again, Perea said. Perea also wrote that the DeHerrera and Johnson were intoxicated.

Rosenthal and DeHerrera’s attorney disagreed with Perea.

“We never would have ended up filing this in the first place unless we felt there was a good faith claim on our part that there was excessive force used,” said DeHerrera attorney Tim Edstrom. “Either excessive force used or in the case of other officers, officers not preventing certain officers from using excessive force.”

Rosenthal is scheduled to release his report Monday, but Kovaleski confirmed Rosenthal will recommend Officers Devin Sparks and Randy Murr should be fired for lying in the investigation and using excessive force. Rosenthal talked in a phone interview.

The video shows DeHerrera standing on the corner talking on the phone for some time while police arrest Johnson.

The tape then shows Sparks grab Michael DeHerrera and take him to the ground, but the video pans wide as officers subdue on DeHerrera. After the camera pulls to a wide shot, you can see officers hitting DeHerrera, but it is impossible to tell if DeHerrera is struggling.

The video zooms back in as police lead the bloodied suspects to a police car.

The city settled with DeHerrera and Johnson for a total of $15,500, and photographs in the case show injuries to DeHerrera face.

Perea said the camera pan automatically back because of the way it is set up.

“I'm confident that there was no malice intended on the cameras, the camera work,” he said.

“So you're saying this was a technology issue not somebody on the cameras trying to protect a Denver police officer? Kovaleski asked.

“That is correct,” Perea said.

Murr was suspended for three days without pay for violating a provision requiring truthful and accurate information in police reports, and Sparks fined 24 hours for the same violation, records show. The officers' attorneys could not be reached for comment.

A variety of charges against Johnson and DeHerrera, including assault and resisting arrest, were dropped.