Monday, August 15 – Denver, CO
The Denver Justice Project and a crowd of supporters gathered at the Denver City and County building for a city council hearing regarding the status of the Office of the Independent Monitor. The Office of the Independent Monitor (OIM), established in 2004, is the only channel available, outside of Internal Affairs, to file complaints about Denver law enforcement. The investigators working for Internal Affairs tend also to work as peers with the officers or sheriffs being investigated for complaints, so there is often an apparent bias to side with the police. Many community members in Denver over the years have expressed their frustration with OIM’s lack of ability to enforce disciplinary consequences for uniformed law enforcement personnel who have committed abuse and/or murder. The Denver Justice Project is working within a multi-step campaign to increase accountability for law enforcement – with the first step being the empowerment of OIM as a permanent city institution that can not be disposed of at a future politician’s convenience:
Currently the Independent Monitor’s office exists as an ordinance, and that makes it a lot weaker because at the end of the mayor’s office could do away with that office without any real input from the community or city council. Part of why we’re here is to strengthen this office, to codify it in the charter, but it’s also been recommended by independent agencies who have been hired to consult around the ways we can fix practices in the Denver Detention Center (the county jail), and one of the major recommendations they said we should implement was to put that office in the charter. It doesn’t cost taxpayers any additional money and it’s also the only independent agency that we have at this point to advocate on behalf of community when going through these uniformed personnel investigations. – Alex Landau, Denver Justice Project
Ahead of the city council vote, people gathered outside to hear speakers from the Denver Justice Project, as well as the Colorado Latino Forum, Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) Denver chapter, and the Colorado ACLU.
After the speeches concluded, people filed inside for the city council hearing. They had hoped to bring in small signs to show their support for the charter amendment but were not allowed to bring them into the chambers.
Denver city council: Hand signs in support of police oversight measure confiscated by security. "No demonstrations" pic.twitter.com/KuJi4goWjv— Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) August 15, 2016
The measure voted on by city council on Monday night did not immediately codify OIM into the city charter, but means that Denver voters this November will decide whether or not the charter amendment becomes law.
Twenty people spoke during the public comment period in favor of the charter amendment. Nobody spoke against the measure, although according to the Colorado Independent, the Denver Police Protective Association “is opposed to a permanent office, saying that it may grant excessive power to the independent monitor.”
City council passed the measure unanimously, although council members Kevin Flynn, Rafael Espinoza, Debbie Ortega and Paul Kashmann were not present. Kevin Flynn of District 2 has been endorsed by Fraternal Order of Police Denver Sheriff Lodge 27.
Several people we spoke with believe that Flynn opposes codifying the OIM into the city charter, but preferred to avoid publicly standing against police oversight, and thus opted to skip the vote.
News in the days leading up to Monday’s city council hearing illustrates why many people in Denver distrust law enforcement, and for some, directly demonstrates the need to make sure the Office of the Independent Monitor remains a permanent fixture.
On Friday August 12, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey announced he would not be filing charges against Jeff Motz of the Denver Police Metro/SWAT unit, who shot and killed Dion Avila Damon as he sat in a parked car on April 12 of this year. And this Sunday, August 14, the Denver Post reported that officer Jeffrey DiManna, who was involved in three high-profile shootings in a six-month period in 2014 and early 2015, had been promoted to the rank of Sergeant.
For Roshan Bliss, an organizer with the Denver Justice Project, this news shows why the Independent Monitor is necessary in Denver, but also why it has not been enough.
The promotion of Jeffrey DiManna despite his misconduct is proof that we need this change and even more. Officer DiManna is a perfect example of the need for stronger citizen oversight of the police. His promotion shows that an officer who has been involved in several controversial shootings in just two years is looked upon highly by DPD instead of with worry or suspicion as everyday members of the community might see him. – Roshan Bliss, Denver Justice Project
Watch our live video coverage from the event: