12 August 2008

Denver Cops Beat Up Man And Lie About It

Denver cops used grossly excessive force against a man accused of a bicycle traffic violation and then covered up their misdeeds in police reports and testimony under oath. Videotape has revealed the truth.

The case against the man beaten up for resisting arrest has been dropped (and the state legislature legalized scalping in this year's legislative session). Now, we need to see if the bad cops involved will be prosecuted, and if an internal affairs investigation will met out justice. If justice is to be served in this case, these men need to be prosecuted for assault and perjury, and they need to be kicked off the force.

On the video, which was shot outside Coors Field during the Colorado Rockies' home opener April 4, plainclothes Denver police detectives working a scalping investigation are seen apparently hitting, kicking and choking John Heaney.

"They both unloaded on me, and I started seeing stars, and the whole thing was just bam, bam, bam after that," said Heaney.

After three detectives had Heaney face-down on the ground with his hands behind his back, the video shows undercover Detective Michael Cordova pull Heaney's hair, lift up his head and slam it into the ground, breaking two of his teeth on the concrete.
Heaney says he had to have two teeth capped.

"I didn't know my teeth were broken until I was spitting out loose pieces," he said.

The officers claimed in court papers that Heaney rode his bicycle through a red light at 20th and Blake streets and then punched Cordova in the nose when Cordova confronted him.

After he was beaten, Heaney was charged with second-degree assault on a police officer and criminal mischief after one of the officers' sunglasses were broken during the arrest. But Heaney, who said he didn't know they were officers, said he only flipped Cordova's Rockies hat off his head.

Before the Denver detectives knew about the videotape made by sports TV producer Greg Prinkey and his crew, they wrote reports and were questioned in court about what happened. Both officers claimed Heaney was throwing "wild punches" at them, hit the officers in the face and chest, and continued to attack them, even when they had him on the ground.

Under oath, Cordova and Detective James Costigan also denied knowing anything about Heaney's broken teeth.

Heaney's attorney Lonn Heymann asked Cordova in court, "Was there a point at which somebody slammed his face into the ground?"

Cordova answered, "Absolutely not."

"How did Mr. Heaney's front teeth get broken," asked Heymann, who is married to Post columnist Susan Greene.

Cordova replied, "I have not a clue."

This has to stop. Denver has reformed its system of internal discipline for police officers with an emphasis on cases involving dishonest and excessive force by police. This will be a test case. If the reforms work, Michael Cordova and James Costigan has thrown their careers away. If it doesn't, they will escape prosecution, receive minor discipline and return to the force.

Gross negligence

While the police brutality case above is a clear case of intentional wrongdoing by Denver Police, instances of reckless indifference are also a problem.

The Denver Post is also reporting today, a day after the free Denver Daily News scooped it on the story, that the ACLU is bringing suit against Denver for a string of misidentification cases, where people were arrested despite clearly not matching the descriptions of the suspect, and then denied access to magistrate review of their arrests beyond the time period mandated by law.

The Big Picture

Mayor Hickenlooper and the City Council have done a lot of things well.

The jail system was in crisis when Hickenlooper took office. Now, a long overdue new criminal courthouse and expanded jail are under construction, and pre-trial detention changes have reduced the burden those jails have to bear. DNA testing in burglaries has gotten the kind of criminals who need to be off the streets in long prison terms. The expansion of the Denver Art Museum and the relocation of the Colorado History Museum were handled well in the end. The Mayor and Council can take partial credit for the fact that Denver proper has a far more flourishing construction and real estate market than the surrounding suburbs, despite the fact that it is virtually landlocked and far more developed already. The City's budget is in better shape than Hickenlooper received it, despite hard economic times. The City is trying to be more environmentally conscious. Serious efforts have been made to give more Denver residents access to quality pre-school education and to reduce vagrancy and homelessness in the city.

The City has thoughtfully considered the local dimensions of the foreclosure crisis although this hasn't yet resulted in much action. Hickenlooper has tried to crack the nut of police misconduct, which is too common in the city, despite strong police union efforts to protect bad cops. This test case will see how successful that effort has been.

There have also been failures. Hickenlooper is still struggling to get the red tape associated with City permits under control. A plan to divert graywater to the lake in City Park, as part of a plan to improve neighborhood storm drainage, also turned out to be a serious environmental problem. The City constantly has to walk a tightrope on development and may grow overconfident and choke it off. And, the City's security plans for the Democratic National Convention have been excessively restrictive overkill.


Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

The Rocky opined that the cops should be fired, for lying even if not for excessive force, on August 14, 2008.

Anonymous said...

We are the voice that is not speaking loud enough to be heard. some of this abuse is individual character flaw based and some of it goes straight to the top. Cops are being told how to handle gray ares in the law, you know,, like your civil rights,,, those are considered very gray obviously.