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Denver Manager of Safety Ron Perea resigns in wake of alleged excessive force decisions

9:26 PM, Aug 23, 2010   |    comments
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Before resigning, Perea historically rescinded both decision in the alleged beatings.

9Wants to Know learned about the resignation before the mayor's office made it public.

Perea's resignation takes effect on Aug. 31 and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper says it was his decision. (Click here to read Perea's handwritten resignation letter.)

"I want to make clear that I didn't ask him to resign, nor did anybody in my office. He felt that he had lost the ability to conduct public outreach, which is a large part of that job, is to build a relationship and a sense of trust between the offices of public safety organizations and the public they serve," Hickenlooper said at a Monday afternoon news conference. "He was not going to stay in a position where he didn't think he could do the job the way it needed to be done."

Hickenlooper stressed he is not handling the situation any differently because he is running to become Colorado's next governor.

"Politics played no role in this. I can tell you with 100 percent certainty: We have treated this the way we would have whether I was never going to run for office again," he said.

The Denver Police Protective Association defended Perea and claims his resignation hurts the discipline process the city has in place.

"The one and only person who has found fault with this system is Mr. Rosenthal, the independent monitor," PPA spokesman David Bruno said. "I think you also have to question whether or not the officers will be able to do their jobs under these circumstances."

Earlier on Monday, 9Wants to Know learned Perea rescinded a discipline order he made in another alleged beating case. It was the second time in Denver history that a manager of safety has changed a decision. Both changes were made by Perea in less than a week.

On Friday, the mayor's office says Perea officially rescinded his decision for Officers Devin Sparks and Randy Murr after the police department internal investigation reopened the case.

In that case, video shows the officers grabbing and hitting Michael DeHerrera while he was on his cell phone on April 4, 2009. Shawn Johnson was also allegedly beaten during the encounter. Perea gave the officers three days suspension, but that decision was lifted on Friday when Perea officially rescinded his order.

Last week, Perea met with several Latino leaders who said Perea should resign if he did not fire the officers.

"We have over 1,500 police officers, they put their lives on the line every day, and they are doing everything they can to make this city as safe as it can be. And there may be a few bad apples in that barrel, but they're darn few," Hickenlooper said. "I think that the public should feel very secure that our police department is not out of control."

Hickenlooper says he does not think Perea could have regained the public trust after what had transpired during the past week.

"I think that all the uncertainty, all the suspicion, would have made that very, very difficult," he said.

"This is one huge step," Denver City Councilmember Judy Montero said. "We were just concerned about how quickly things were going downhill in terms of police and community relations and because of the decisions that were being made."

"I think what we saw was the gradual erosion of that trust," Denver City Councilmember Michael Hancock said.

Hancock says he heard from people over the weekend who were deeply concerned about Perea's handling of the allegations of police misconduct.

Bruno thinks Perea's resignation, and what it means, will put doubts in the minds of Denver officers.

"My fear is, either a citizen or an officer will now be hurt if an officer hesitates in the slightest degree to do what he believes is necessary and appropriate under the circumstance without the cloud or the fear that behind him is the monitor," Bruno said.

Bruno continued to blame Denver's independent monitor, Richard Rosenthal. Rosenthal recommended that Sparks and Murr be fired, while Perea just had them suspended for three days.

"I hope they [members of the public] recognize what's wrong in the process is the monitor violating the terms of the ordinance which empower him. The ordinance provides that he keep everything he learns confidential," Bruno said.

In fact, the independent monitor can make a report public when he disagrees with the manager of safety's decision.

DeHerrera's father, Anthony DeHerrera, works for the Pueblo County Sheriff's Department. He was on the phone with his son during the 2009 incident.

"I'm surprised. I thought he [Perea] was defiant and wouldn't change his mind. For me, he made the wrong decision. Now, hopefully something's going to get done," Anthony DeHerrera said.

The decision Perea rescinded on Monday was the suspension of Officer Eric Sellers for 45 days without pay for "inappropriate force" and "commission of a deceptive act."

Perea decided to suspend Sellers instead of fire him because the internal investigation of the officer's case took more than two years, according to sources close to the investigation. Perea blamed the long investigation on the former manager of safety, Al Lacabe, according to sources.

However, on Friday, the Citizen Oversight Board criticized Perea's decision about the Sellers case, finding that the officer lied about the use of excessive force.

On Nov. 23, 2008, volunteer firefighter Jared Lunn claims Sellers beat him up, handcuffed him, swore at him, then let him go, according to sources. Lunn was never charged.

Sellers maintains it was another officer, not him, who did that to Lunn.

For his part, Hickenlooper refused to blame Lacabe.

"I'm not going to criticize Al Lacabe," he said. "Was he perfect? No. Did he do a great job? Yes."

Deputy Manager of Safety Mary Malatesta will take over as interim manager of safety until a new manager can be found. No timeline has been created for a search process.

Hickenlooper says Perea does not get a severance package and is staying until the end of the month to finish his work on the budget.

If you have any news tips or additional information about this story, e-mail Deborah.Sherman@9news.com.

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