Denver County has a new Sheriff, and he has made sweeping changes as to how his deputies approach ‘use of force’ situations. This week revealed that Sheriff Patrick Firman, who was elected just last year, terminated three corrections deputies for violating the agency’s force policies. The fairly new Sheriff assumed the position, claiming to be in favor of reform in the jails and throughout the Sheriff’s Department. Having overhauled the agency’s policies on force, the termination of three deputies shows that he has every intention on following through with his promises.
Sheriff Firman released a statement to the media. “The Denver Sheriff Department does not tolerate the use of excessive force by deputies. While force is sometimes necessary, the use of excessive force is never justified,” the statement read.
Firman’s move is bold, as many agencies around the country would have found it easier to cover up the actions of their deputies rather than expose a flaw in their department. After the unrelated incidents involving the three deputies who were terminated, the Sheriff overhauled the policies that govern use of force. In a confrontational situation, deputies are now required to attempt to de-escalate a situation before turning to force. Force is only ever authorized for two reasons: Defense and control and force is never to be used to inflict harm. By law, it is only to be used to defend against harm to ones self or others, or to take a resistant subject into custody. The Sheriff’s policy adds a new layer of protection for both officers and inmates, by barring the use of force against verbally resistant subjects.
By terminating the three deputies for violating force policy, he demonstrates that he is not afraid to put his money where his mouth is. “Deputies hold a position of trust, a trust bestowed upon them by the department and the community and are visible representatives of government. They are given enormous discretion in carrying out their duties — discretion which also carries tremendous responsibility, especially as it pertains to authority to use force,” read a statement issued to the media. The Sheriff appears intent on listening to the concerns of the community, taking bold steps to correct a fatally flawed system.
The deputies terminated were William Jackson, Steven Roybal, and Monwell Fuller. A civilian review administrator, identified as Shannon Elwell, wrote that the “deputies’ actions violated the department’s guiding principles of respect, judgment, sensitivity, integrity, accountability and professionalism.” Jackson became engaged with an altercation with a mentally handicapped male. At one point, instead of recognizing the man’s handicap and working through the problem, he grabbed the man’ head and slammed him backwards onto a metal table. The man suffered a minor injury, however, the internal investigation determined that he allowed his frustrations to get the best of him, failing to use proper judgment.
Steven Roybal, yet again, demonstrates the tendency for law enforcement to act out of emotion rather than thought. Roybal encountered a hostile subject, who after being given his meal, threw it through the slot in the door. He continued to taunt deputies and was waving his arms through the slot. Deputy Roybal decided to kick the door to the opening shut. The inmate’s hand and fingers were clearly visible. Roybal decided not to report it. He was only discovered later when the inmate’s fingers were examined. After initially trying to hide it, he provided several other excuses for his actions. The inmates in Denver jail will not miss Deputy Roybal.
Monwell Fuller was the third deputy to be terminated for violating use of force policy within a two week period. His incident stemmed from overwhelming force used against a subject who did not wish to return to his cell. After refusing to get off the phone, Fuller started to push the inmate back to his cell. The inmate turned around and took a step toward him. Fuller then proceeded to punch the inmate in the face, grab him by the neck and threw him to the ground. A review of the incident found that Fuller’s use of force was not for defense of his person or control, but retaliation for not complying with him. “Not only was the use-of-force situation created and escalated by Deputy Fuller, it was also unnecessary,” a letter from the investigation read. This was his second excessive force complaint since 2014.
As usual, the attorneys for the deputies claim that the terminations were too harsh, punishments not suitable for the offense. They also advised that the changes in the use of force policy will allow inmates to think they can get away with anything. It is unfortunate that attorneys would fail to see the overwhelming win for civil rights, which the termination of these deputies has achieved. All three deputies who were terminated, worked at the downtown central jail facility.
The new Sheriff has, so far, stood by his word and delivered on the much needed changes in Colorado’s largest detention system. He has restructured his command staff, revamped scheduling for deputies, increased staffing and has completely overhauled the agency’s use of force policies. He was criticized however, for how long he took to implement these policies after he was hired.
The new use of force policy will take extensive training and will not be implemented over night. The Sheriff stated that there are over 900 deputies who will need to attend the ten hour training course. The course is designed to teach the de-escalation tactics they have developed. Local agencies are able to create use of force policies that are more restrictive than federal standards dictate, however, most do not go above and beyond the requirements set forth on a national level. The steps Sheriff Firman have taken are in the right direction and should be mirrored by law enforcement and corrections agencies nationwide.
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