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Two officers fired for 'deceptive acts'

6:00 PM, Apr 12, 2011   |    comments
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Police say the two officers were fired in connection with an incident in front of the Denver Diner on July 12, 2009. Based on the video provided to 9NEWS, the Denver officers allegedly used excessive force on some women standing outside of the restaurant.

The video shows one officer, later identified as Officer Ricky Nixon, pepper spraying a woman in the face, shoving a woman to the ground and handcuffing many people in front of the diner. Officer Kevin Devine was shown smoking a cigar and threatening the bystanders with a billy club in the video. It is unclear, since the video does not have sound, what the victims did to warrant the response from the officer.

Sarah Tanner was at the Denver Diner that night.

"[The police] had their night sticks and billy clubs and were hitting her in the face and in the body," Tanner said. "I didn't know it at the time, but she had already been pepper sprayed at one point."

Tanner says she does not really know how it started, but says it did not have to end like it did.

"This 90-pound girl that's restrained, sitting there, no threat at all to these 200-something-pound [police officers]," Tanner said. "She was no threat to them. And four or five of them are surrounding her, beating her. One swift hit would have done her fine."

Nixon has been with the force for seven years and Devine has been with the force for five years.

"The decision [on April 12] to terminate Officers Devine and Nixon was reached following a very fair, thorough and complete review of the case and reliance on the discipline matrix," Manager of Safety Charles Garcia said. "We continue to hold the Denver Police Department to the highest standards of professionalism and will not tolerate untruthfulness or inappropriate force. Each officer has an affirmative obligation to serve and protect, as well as ensure constitutional policing from all officers in the department. It is our hope that by restoring public confidence in the disciplinary process, we will restore confidence in the department and all of our fine officers."

The attorney for the officers and the police union disagrees. Dave Bruno says at least 15 people reviewed the case before Garcia and none of them found evidence of deceptive behavior.

"What did he see that no one else who is part of the system failed to see?" Bruno asked. "What he's really saying when he disciplines these officers for deceptive acts is that everybody else along that chain was not doing their job. I frankly don't believe that's the case. The only conclusion you can come to is this decision is not motivated by the facts cause the facts have been reviewed multiple times it must be motivated by something else."

The Denver Diner internal investigations case was opened in July 2009, according to the annual report. The investigation took seven months to complete and the monitor requested several extra investigations. The safety manager ultimately found the officers guilty of lying and using excessive force. The officers were fired for the offense of lying.

According to Internal Affairs reports, the officers wrote misleading statements about what happened and omitted other information to make it appear as if they acted in self defense. However, officials found they hit a handcuffed prisoner in the face.

After the arrest in July 2009, three customers at the diner were arrested and all three pleaded guilty to public fighting and/or disturbing the peace, according to internal affairs records.

"The individual officers are feeling abused by the system and their peers are feeling angry as a result of this," Bruno said.

"What he [Nixon] found was a scene in total chaos made up of drunks. I hate to be rude, but that's exactly what it was. He now is coming on the scene without knowing other than a fellow officer's calling for help. He and other officer need to gain control. What you see is them gaining control," Bruno said. "Sure, if you look at the video in isolation you may see something you disagree with, but you have to put it in the context of what the officers' state of mind. No one gets to make a decision on an arrest from the convenience of their sofa, they make it on the street with people who are angry combatants."

In one month this year, a record six officers have been terminated from the Denver Police Department in three cases, according to the 2010 annual report of the Office of the Independent Monitor. In 2010, three officers were fired in one related case. In 2009, 2008 and 2007, only one officer was terminated each year, according to the report.

"It's clear the police department has implemented d the disciplinary matrix rule that says officers be terminated if they commit deceptive acts by lying on their reports or to internal affairs," Independent Monitor Richard Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal agrees with the safety manager's decision to fire the two officers involved in the Denver Diner arrest.

"Based upon a review of the reports and the video, it is reasonable to conclude that both officers used inappropriate force and lied about their actions," Rosenthal said.

Bruno says the officers plan to appeal the decision.

Denver Mayor Bill Vidal released this statement:

"I have confidence in Manager Garcia's decision in this case. I believe that his conclusions are sound and justified. I am also confident that our disciplinary process has the right checks and balances to guarantee impartial and transparent outcomes. Our citizens trust that our police officers model truth and decency, and when an officer departs from the truth, the excellent reputation of our police force as a whole is damaged. We cannot and will not tolerate this behavior."

(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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