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Police: FBI investigation of beating is political

10:56 AM, Aug 18, 2010   |    comments
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"This is a case where elected officials are using the media for political grandstanding. It's hard to say, but it's as plain as the nose on my face," Vince Gavito, vice president of the Denver Police Protection Association, said. "The officers had due process. It's over. It's done."

The Denver manager of safety took away one day of pay from Officer Devin Sparks, who has been on the force since 2007 and suspended Officer Randy Murr, who's been on the force since 1995, for three days.

Manager of Safety Ron Perea found the officers did not use unnecessary force, but did write their police reports inaccurately.

The discipline was handed down July 19 after city surveillance video showed the officers arresting Michael DeHerrera and Shawn Johnson outside of a bar at 15th and Larimer Streets on April 4, 2009.

In the video, DeHerrera is calling his father, who is a police officer in Pueblo, for help and telling him he thought police were beating Johnson. While he's on the phone, Sparks grabs DeHerrera, throws him down then hits him with a device called a sap.

In police reports, the officers maintain that the young men hit them before the camera focused and continued to resist arrest.

A source told 9Wants to Know that the officers' immediate supervisors, the commander of District 6 and the division chief of patrol, both recommended that the department sustain a finding that the officers used unnecessary force.

The Denver independent monitor called the police reports "pure fiction" and recommended the officers be fired.

Since the monitor and manager are at odds, on Monday, Hickenlooper Monday asked the FBI to review the case.

Despite criticism that he's being political, on Tuesday the mayor said he was just doing his job when he asked the FBI to investigate.

"This is what we've always tried to do, to make sure that we are in a deliberate and careful way of trying to arrive at appropriate decisions," Hickenlooper said. "This is no different than anything we've ever done."

Hickenlooper says he expects the FBI to look at the response of the police officers and determine if it was appropriate.

While the FBI can give an opinion about the case, it can not fire the officers or change Perea's decision to suspend and not fire the officers.

"I will definitely take what the FBI has to say very seriously and discuss it," Perea said. "I won't speculate on what could occur or any options. It's too early for me to speculate."

An assistant Denver district attorney declined to prosecute the officers for unnecessary force last year because the office didn't feel confident about getting a prosecution, according to spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough.

DeHerrera's father says he thinks it's "kind of funny" about all the attention the videotape is getting now because he wrote letters and emails about it a year and a half ago to the governor, the attorney general, the mayor and the FBI. He says no one did anything about it then and he has been very frustrated.

The letters and e-mails, which have been obtained by 9Wants to Know, show that Anthony DeHerrera has been writing the officials for more than a year. The police department replied by telling him his son's case was under investigation.

Anthony DeHerrera thinks the officers beat up his son because they thought Michael was videotaping on his cell phone the arrest of his friend.

"I had on open line for seven minutes and I kept hearing thuds and thuds and I knew somebody was beating Michael up. I didn't hear anything from Michael, so I thought he was dead," Anthony DeHerrera said. "The last thing I heard was: 'We got to get rid of the phone, they're recording us.' And then the phone line went dead."

Anthony DeHerrera thinks the officers took the phone to hide any evidence that they think were on the phones.

Perea says the phones were lost and says the police do not have them and did not take them. Perea says phones are easy to get lost in the chaos of a busy and late Friday night.

Anthony DeHerrera is hopeful about the new FBI investigation prompted by the mayor. Hickenlooper says while the video is alarming, there is more to the story.

"It's a tough job being a police officer. Folks come out of these taverns that late at night, often times very unruly, maybe they've had too much to drink. It's just such a tough job, we want to make sure we get all the facts in," Hickenlooper said.

If you have any news tips, please e-mail investigative reporter Deborah Sherman at Deborah.Sherman@9NEWS.com.

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