Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Suthers: Cops well trained in use of force

Posted By on Wed, Jul 15, 2015 at 10:49 AM

click to enlarge Brown was seriously injured in an explosion of his house set off by police in 2012. - COURTESY RONALD BROWN
  • Courtesy Ronald Brown
  • Brown was seriously injured in an explosion of his house set off by police in 2012.
Today, the Independent reports on numerous instances of the Colorado Springs Police Department's use of force against citizens. 

And Mayor John Suthers is apparently just fine with that use of force, according to an emailed statement about our report that says officers have to make decisions "very quickly." Based on his response, it would appear there will be no review of the department's use of force if Suthers has anything to say about it.
More on that later.

The Indy reports in its cover story package, "Full Force," that some instances of brutality have led to settlements, which cost taxpayers money. Other cases are pending, such as this one involving Alexis Acker. You can watch the video here with the story of an officer throwing her to the floor. There's also a video on our site of a man being held in a police holding cell who's tased without warning.

Then there's Ronald Brown, an Army veteran whose condo was heavily damaged by an explosion intentionally set off by police. Brown was said to be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome from his years serving in the military, yet there's no evidence in the police reports that police sought a therapist or assistance from Army officials.

Our report, in the works since April, comes at a time when the American Civil Liberties Union is demanding answers from the CSPD on use of force, such as this incident that was publicized Tuesday based on an ACLU press release.

So we checked in with the ACLU's legal director in Colorado, Mark Silverstein, who had this to say about our report, "Full force."
"I imagine the community doesn’t have much confidence in the Colorado Springs Police Department’s ability to investigate their own officers to hold them accountable," he says. "There is a tremendous need for both accountability and transparency with regard to how the Colorado Springs Police Department responds to issues of abuse of citizens and excessive force. That’s clear from your articles."

Silverstein also says the revelations contained in the Independent's stories "underscore my disappointment with John Suthers that one of his first initiatives instead of looking at the Police Department and these issues of police accountability, he proposes to take homeless people out of downtown and make it a crime to sit on the planters." He was referring to a proposal by Suthers that would ban people from sitting or lying on sidewalks, planters or other places not designed to be sat upon downtown and in Old Colorado City, according to the Gazette.

Silverstein also says he's "bothered" that the Police Department refuses to release various records regarding use of force, including internal affairs investigation reports and disciplinary records.

But Mayor Suthers doesn't seem bothered at all. His statement to us this morning:
I was the Chairman of the Colorado Police Officers Standards and Training Committee (POST) for 10 years. I was District Attorney for the 4th Judicial District for 8 years and reviewed numerous use of force complaints and investigations. Based on that experience I know that the Colorado Springs Police Department hires well qualified people and trains its officers well in use of force. The public, as well as investigative reporters, need to understand the frequency with which the police encounter difficult situations with potential danger to officers and the public. And they do not have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. They have to make on scene decisions, sometimes very quickly.
The city's responsibility is to ensure cases are properly investigated and hold officers responsible when laws or department policies are violated.
I will not comment on specific cases that are under investigation or are the subject of litigation.
Suthers doesn't say how the city carries out that responsibility "to ensure cases are properly investigated" and officers held accountable, so should we assume he means the CSPD will continue to investigate its own, all in secret? As it sits today, none of the records reflecting those efforts are being made available to the public.

The answer to that question from Suthers: "I'm ok with personnel actions being non public. That's consistent with privacy laws."

Lastly, we want to point out that Suthers' comment — "The public, as well as investigative reporters, need to understand the frequency with which the police encounter difficult situations..." — is a rather odd statement, considering that our story most assuredly does report that frequency. So we're not sure what he means by that. We've asked and if we hear back, we'll update.


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