Hancock wants to appeal decision to reinstate officers

9:24 AM, Sep 12, 2011   |    comments
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Tuesday, Denver's Civil Service Commission reinstated Denver Police Officers Devin Sparks and Randy Murr to their jobs with back pay.

Sparks and Murr were fired March 25 by then-Manager of Safety Charles Garcia after he found them guilty of using inappropriate force and lying on their police reports about the beating.

"According to the city attorneys that I've consulted with the decision on yesterday was a very narrow one," Hancock said. "And one that leads us to believe that we need to make the effort to vigorously defend the original decision by Charlie Garcia."

The head of the Civil Service Commission says the decision was based on a technicality.

"It's not an endorsement of the officers by any stretch of the imagination," Earl Peterson, executive director of Denver's Civil Service Commission, said. "This is absolutely not condoning the behavior or the conduct of the officers. That was not reviewed."

The panel of officers ruled Garcia did not have the right to terminate the officers under the city charter because the officers had already been punished by Garcia's predecessor, Safety Manager Ron Perea. Sparks and Murr had accepted Perea's decision to suspend them for three days without pay and all time limits for appeals had passed.

Because of the reversal, the police union called it a very happy day, Tuesday.

"Based upon the facts, they didn't deserve termination," Nick Rogers, president of the Police Protective Association. "Charlie Garcia, shame on you. You didn't make your decision based upon facts."

Rogers says Garcia should be "ashamed of himself" for judging Murr and Sparks on nine seconds of video, along with the media. While the city is expected to appeal, Rogers said the union "will stand behind them until the bitter end."

Late Tuesday, acting Manager of Safety Ashley Kilroy said she supports Garcia's decision to terminate the officers.

"I cannot and do not tolerate excessive force in our city's safety agencies or departing from the truth by any of our employees," Kilroy said in a statement.

The beating victims, Shawn Johnson and Michael DeHerrera, told 9NEWS they're confused, shocked and sick to their stomachs over the reversal.

"I don't think I need someone to say, 'Yes, Shawn, you were right, your civil rights were violated and these cops were out of line.' I don't need to hear that because I know what happened that night," Johnson said. "But I do expect people who are put in certain position to protect me, to protect me when I can't protect myself."

"It was finally clear what was right and what was wrong and everybody agreed that they were wrong," DeHerrera said. "So now to put that back up into the air is just ridiculous."

Immediately after Johnson and DeHerrera were arrested April 4, 2009, they were charged with misdemeanors and faced jail time for allegedly interfering with officers and not following orders. The young men had been kicked out of a bar after one of them used the women's restroom.

Johnson was considering cutting a plea deal when their attorneys learned city cameras had captured their arrests on camera. The video showed the officers tackling and hitting the men repeatedly with a metal weapon while they were not resisting. Police records later showed the officers lied on their reports.

The video also showed DeHerrera calling his father for help. Anthony DeHerrera, a Pueblo Sheriff's Department deputy, was upset at the panel's decision. He says while the union is telling everyone that the officers didn't do anything wrong, the panel actually ordered their firings overturned based on a technicality in the law.

"They're still criminals and they're still liars and they still violated Michael's rights and committed crimes and that hasn't changed," he said. "By no means are we done fighting. We're going to get these bad cops off the street, they will pay for what they did to Michael and they won't be able to do it to anybody else."

According to the decision reviewed by 9Wants to Know, the panel found that the officers had suffered a form of double-jeopardy. They had already been punished once by Perea, who had suspended them for three days. Murr and Sparks then had 10 days to appeal their discipline but did not. The panel said, "When the manager of safety issues and order of discipline, the order becomes final and effective immediately."

One month after Perea disciplined the officers, he rescinded his decision and resigned. When Garcia took over as safety manager, he fired the officers.

"They weren't trying the officers. They were looking at the protocol and the procedures in the case," Civil Service Commission head Earl Peterson said.

He pointed out that this was new territory for the Civil Service Commission because no disciplinary action has ever been rescinded before.

The three hearing officers were unanimous in their rulings to put the officers back on the force. Susan Eckert, Lawrence Leff and Rhonda Rhodes considered the case.

"They are well qualified labor attorneys who went through a long vetting process," Peterson said. "They were interviewed by the union and manager Al Lacabe. So while people may not like the outcome, that's not the totality of it. They were only looking at the procedures and policies allowed by city charter."

The Denver City Attorney's office put the commission on notice that it will appeal the case. It's expected to play out in district court as the officers fight to keep their jobs.

The manager of safety says Murr and Sparks will be assigned to desk jobs while the appeals process takes its course.

If you have anything to add to this story or any other news tips, please email Investigative Reporter Deborah Sherman at Deborah.Sherman@9NEWS.com.

(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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