Denver hopes new rule will stop deputy suspensions from being overturned by board

Posted at 5:35 PM, Nov 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-07 20:02:58-05

DENVER -- The narratives and videos are all too similar, with matching discipline letters citing the same reason for termination of Denver deputies: "inappropriate force."

But Denver7 has found the mayor-appointed group called the Career Service Board has long been criticized for undermining efforts to reform the troubled department -- by overturning deputy suspensions and firings ordered by the Department of Safety.

The most-recent case involves deputies Bret Garegnani and Carlos Hernandez. Both deputies were suspended for excessive force captured on jailhouse video that ultimately led to the death of inmate Michael Marshall.

"When we have a system where people are given 12-day suspensions, 10-day suspensions, 16-day suspensions after killing someone, something is still wrong," said Mari Newman, the family's attorney.

Marshall's family already criticized the suspensions when they were originally ordered, calling them too light.

But less than a week after the city of Denver agreed to pay the family a $4.6 million settlement, a Denver hearing officer overturned both deputies' suspensions.

According to the decision letter, the hearing officer found there was "no rule violation" and therefore the discipline should be reversed.

“Neither had any prior discipline; both attempted to talk to Marshall to persuade him to comply with lawful orders and, when discovering those efforts were unavailing, used only that force required to prevent harm to responders; when Marshall’s heart stopped, both appellants, Garegnani in particular, engaged in extraordinary measures to save Marshall’s life, even when told by outside medical responders to cease resuscitative measures,” the hearing officer wrote in his order reversing the suspensions.

In another case of inappropriate force caught on jailhouse video, Denver deputy Williams Jackson is seen slamming a mental ill inmate into a metal table.

The Department of Safety fired Jackson over his actions, only to have the Career Service Board overturn his firing and change it to a six-day suspension.

A third excessive force case captured on jailhouse video had a similar outcome. Denver deputy Thomas Ford was fired for punching an inmate and knocking him to the ground. But 14 months later, the board reversed his firing and agree to pay him an entire year in back pay in benefits.

In October, the Career Service Board adopted a new rule that puts the burden of proof during the appeals process on the deputies instead of the sheriff's department.

A change, the department of safety said it hopes will stop more of these discipline orders from being overturned.

“The hearing officer’s decision to reverse our disciplinary orders severely undermines our authority as an employer and prevents us from appropriately disciplining deputies who have violated department rules and regulations," Daelene Mix a spokeswoman with the Department of Safety said. "The hearing officer should not have substituted his judgment for that of the Department’s. Hopefully, the new rules the Career Service Board recently adopted will prevent this from happening in future discipline cases. Based on the administrative review of the incident, we continue to believe that discipline is warranted and we will confer with the City Attorney’s Office regarding our appellate options.”