Denver Mayor Hancock announces Sheriff Gary Wilson stepping down in shakeup of troubled department

'Enough is enough,' mayor says of agency scandals

DENVER - Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced Monday that Sheriff Gary Wilson has stepped down as head of an agency racked by allegations of deputies abusing jail inmates and internal corruption.

"Gary has served this city honorably, and for that we are grateful," the mayor said. "After much consideration, however, he and I agree that a change in leadership would help ignite the significant change within the department that we are looking for." Wilson will remain with the department.

"The public's trust in its Sheriff Department has been shaken, and that is simply unacceptable," the mayor said. "The city is taking action to address several recent incidents and to rebuild confidence in the department by raising the bar of accountability among sheriff's deputies, supervisors and command staff. The people of Denver deserve nothing less than a department they can be proud of."

"We need to hold people accountable," Executive Director of the Department of Safety Stephanie O'Malley said, in reference to recent allegations of misconduct in the department.

Just last month a federal judge urged the U.S. Attorney's Office to investigate a pattern of misconduct at the sheriff's department and Denver Police Department stemming from a former inmate's lawsuit alleging brutality and corruption by deputies.


--Mayor: 'Enough is enough'--

"All of us have been incensed by what we've seen, by what we've read, by what we're dealing with, by what we're investigating…And that's not okay with us," Hancock said.

"There isn't one case we're following up on. It's been a string of incidents that quite frankly enough is enough. And that's why we're moving to make a change today," the mayor stressed.

Division Chief Elias Diggins temporarily fill the sheriff's role while the city conducts a nationwide search for the next sheriff.

"I have ordered a review of the scope and capacity of the Sheriff's Department's Internal Affairs Bureau to investigate complaints against deputies and other sworn personnel,  a recommendation that was once made by the Office of Independent Monitor," Hancock said. "I've also instructed the Department of Safety to expedite the discipline of pending cases within the Sheriff's Department. "

The mayor said the city will continue a top-to-bottom review of the department by four task forces that Wilson began in March. A wide array of community stakeholders are participating in the task forces and a public report on their recommendations will be released once the review is done.

Speaking briefly, former sheriff Wilson said, "We have put a lot of things in place to try to address these issues. I have no doubt that those particular recommendations will still be looked at, be considered."

Interim-Sheriff Diggins said he'll start by "going to do a holistic review of all of the recommendations that have been put into place thus far. I've been working very closing with Sheriff Wilson in those task forces."

The mayor announced the shakeup at the department a 10 a.m. news conference that included O’Malley, Independent Monitor Nick Mitchell, City Attorney Scott Martinez and sheriff's department officials.

Wilson, who unlike most Colorado sheriffs was appointed and not elected, had faced increasing public criticism over misconduct at the largest sheriff's department in state.

Last week, Wilson announced that he was placing two jail deputies on investigative leave while investigating one deputy for allegedly using excessive force against a suspect in custody and the other deputy for allegedly falsifying a report about that incident.

At the time, 7NEWS reporter Lindsay Watts asked the sheriff if he can understand why people may have lost trust in the department.

"I can understand why there is community concern and I also share that concern," Wilson replied. "And that's why I wanted to make sure that the community was aware of this event and that we're transparent, not just [about] the event itself, but transparent on the outcome."


--Series of embarrassing incidents at Sheriff's Department--

The sheriff's department's other recent controversial incidents, include:

  • Last week, Wilson announced that he was placing two jail deputies on investigative leave while investigating one deputy for allegedly using excessive force against a suspect in custody and the other deputy for allegedly falsifying a report about that incident.
  • Last month, a federal judge asked the U.S. Attorney to investigate a pattern of alleged misconduct by the Denver Sheriff's Department and the Denver Police Department in connection with a federal lawsuit by a former inmate that accuses one deputy of attacking him and another deputy of directing inmates to brutalize him. There's  also allegations that one of the deputies was smuggling marijuana and pornography into the jail in exchange for payoffs.
  • In April, the former second-highest ranking member of the Denver Sheriff's Department was indicted for allegedly stealing 1,288 copies of Turbo Tax software from metro Denver Target stores and reselling them on eBay for  $60,000.
  • In March, a coalition of African-American pastors demanded that Mayor Michael Hancock, Safety Manager Stephanie O'Malley and Sheriff Wilson implement reform to stop deputy misconduct, especially brutality against inmates.
  • In January a former deputy who helped an inmate escape from jail was sentenced to six years in prison.
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