3 Denver police officers, 4 sheriff deputies disciplined for excessive force

A Denver police officer who fired his gun at homeowners who had reported their security alarm was ringing for no reason will lose pay, along with two other Denver police officers and four sheriff’s deputies were suspended for using excessive force on inmates and arrestees.

Disciplinary letters for the officers and deputies provided by the Denver Department of Public Safety show that one deputy and one officer were suspected for grabbing or placing pressure on someone’s neck.  All the letters were issued in May.

Officer Joseph Merino on June 13, 2019, fired at homeowners in their own home while responding to a burglary alarm even though the homeowners told the 911 call taker they were home and just wanted an officer to drive by, his disciplinary letter shows. A dispatcher, however, told Merino that the homeowners were not present at the house and he responded to the address.

The homeowners told police that they saw a figure with a flashlight near their home so they banged the glass to try to scare that person away.

“We heard a loud bang and my husband thought someone was still trying to get in,” one of the homeowners said in a statement, according to the disciplinary letter. “We realized it was an officer after I looked outside and saw the cop car outside.”

Merino told investigators that he didn’t know the homeowners were in the house and that the loud bang on the glass scared him and he fired the gun in defense. The bullet struck the house but did not injure anyone and public safety officials suspended him for four days for the incident, according to the letter.

Merino will serve a four-day suspension for carelessly handling his gun.

Excessive force by officers

Denver police Officer Vincent Kramer will serve a four-day suspension for twice using a Taser on a man who was running away from him on April 17, 2020. Kramer was working off-duty at a King Soopers when two private security guards in the same area told him that two men were threatening to shoot shoppers and reacted belligerently when contacted by the guards. The guards said they believed the men were drunk.

Kramer found one of the men nearby but the man ran away. Kramer drew his gun and told the man to stop. The man ignored Kramer’s commands to get on the ground, but spoke to Kramer and sometimes faced him or slowed to a walk. When the man started to run away again, Kramer used the Taser on him but the electricity did not stop the man. Kramer used the Taser on the man a second time while the man was walking away from him, this time knocking the man to the ground.

Public safety officials gave Kramer a mitigated penalty in part because he was alone and confronting potentially armed suspects.

Another officer, Timothy Cueva, will serve a 10-day suspension for grabbing a burglary suspect by the throat on Oct. 8, 2020, after the combative suspect tried to headbutt him a second time. The suspect “made sounds that indicated his breathing was obstructed and Officer Cueva repositioned his hand to grasp (the suspect’s) jaw rather than his throat,” the disciplinary letter states.

Court records show that Cueva has not been charged with a crime in connection to the incident, despite the passage of a police reform law in June 2020 that bans police from using chokeholds. The law defines chokeholds as “a method by which a person applies sufficient pressure to a person to make breathing difficult or impossible and includes but is not limited to any pressure to the neck, throat or windpipe that may prevent or hinder breather or reduce intake of air.”

Excessive force in the jail

Denver sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Bagley will serve a 10-day suspension for punching an inmate in the head several times, including once the man was lying facedown on the ground. Bagley told investigators he was trying to help another deputy whom the man tried to punch and choke during a pat search.

But Department of Public Safety officials found that Bagley could have tried other means of controlling the person, like using pain compliance techniques or, if needed, hit the man in a different part of the body.

“Deputy Bagley failed to treat (the man) with an adequate amount of humanity when he struck (the man’s) head, and further failed to treat him humanely when he struck him once more in the head after (the man) had been placed on his chest,” Carl McEncroe, civilian review administrator with the public safety department, wrote in the disciplinary letter.

Another deputy was suspended for using excessive force on an man incarcerated in the jail after the man refused to remove his hair tie on Nov. 13. The man turned toward the deputies, who told investigators they believed he was going to fight them.

Deputy Ian Schiffhauer will lose four days of work for momentarily grabbing the man’s neck while taking him to the ground and applied pressure to the man’s neck once on the ground.

“Although thankfully (the man) did not suffer injury, there was a potential risk of considerable injury to him,” McEnroe wrote.

Sgt. James Casias will serve a 14-day suspension for shoving a man incarcerated in the jail to the ground. He was given a harsher punishment in part because he is a supervisor, according to his disciplinary letter.

A fourth deputy, Denise Valdez, was disciplined for standing on a man’s legs in the jail — a force technique that is neither taught nor approved by the sheriff department. She will serve four days of suspension for the incident if she violates another rule in the next two years.

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