DENVER – Two Denver Sheriff Department deputies have been suspended six and 14 days respectively for their roles in allowing an attempted murder suspect to escape from custody at Denver Health in March.
Deputy Stephen Hernandez received a 14-day suspension that will begin on Dec. 31 and Deputy Jason Leyshon received a six-day suspension that will begin Dec. 26 after a review by the department’s internal affairs office. Both will not be paid during that time.
According to their disciplinary letters and the internal affairs investigation documents, both deputies had been tasked with transporting Mauricio Venzor-Gonzales, an attempted murder suspect who had been shot in November 2017, to the Correctional Care Medical Facility at Denver Health for an orthopedic appointment on March 19 of this year.
Venzor-Gonzales had been using crutches after being shot in his leg and foot months earlier, but had secretly stopped using them while in jail, video from inside the jail later showed, according to the investigation.
But on that day in March, Venzor-Gonzales was using the crutches when the two deputies went to pick him up from the Downtown Detention Center, the investigation says. There was another inmate who was also using a walker.
But both Leyshon and Hernandez decided once at the jail that because the inmates were using walking aids, they would not restrain them – though that is not in line with department policy.
The inmates were loaded into a van and taken to the sallyport at Denver Health. The deputies opened the van doors and began walking the inmates toward the entrance to the hospital, at which time Venzor-Gonzales dropped his crutches, ran to the gate, climbed over to it and ran off, according to the internal affairs investigation and statements made by the deputies.
Neither deputy originally had their radios tuned to police frequencies, however, so communicating to the police department, dispatch and the hospital that an inmate escaped proved difficult for them. A Denver Health employee was the first to call police about Venzor-Gonzales’s escape, the investigation says.
The investigation reports say that Hernandez initially continued to try and transport the other inmates inside. Leyshon got ahold of a sergeant on the radio eventually, who told him to go search for Venzor-Gonzales. Another sergeant then told Hernandez to join him.
But DPD’s helicopter was down and there was a lapse between when Venzor-Gonzales escaped and when officers were told of the escape, and Venzor-Gonzales was not captured that day.
But his escape set off a series of other events involving law enforcement. Denver police shot two men a few days later, one of whom officers believed was Venzor-Gonzales but who was not. One of those men died. The three officers involved in that shooting have since been cleared by Denver prosecutors.
Hernandez received extra punishment because of “aggravating” factors in the case, internal affairs wrote. Among them was his “lack of urgency in following the escapee,” the investigation report says.
“His reaction to the escape was to pick up the ‘bag of iron’ and casually escort the two remaining inmates into the building,” the report says. “And even after entering the building and being met by two other deputies, the lack of any urgent response to the escape continued in that Deputy Hernandez appeared to be functioning as if nothing had happened just moments before.”
Leyshon received mitigating factors that led to his six-day suspension for failure to perform deputies. Both deputies were found to have violated department policies on restraints, radio communications and escapes.
In a statement from the Denver Sheriff Department, the department said that after the escape, it reviewed its procedures and made changes.
“Earlier this year, the escape of an inmate while being transported for treatment to the Denver Health Medical Facility prompted a review of department procedures. As a result, several changes were made to policy that clarified and provided additional guidance to staff when transporting inmates outside of the facility,” the statement says.
“Additional training was also provided to reinforce those changes. As you know, the Deputies involved were disciplined. In addition, we have also worked in collaboration with Denver Health to make structural modifications. The safety of our staff, inmates and our community remains a top priority and we are committed to continuously review all aspects of our operations to ensure those priorities are met.”