Denver (AP) — Denver's outgoing police monitor is calling for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation after he issued a scathing report Thursday that said the police department has substantial problems in how it checks itself.
Richard Rosenthal said he documented cases where police showed bias in favor of officers and internal affairs investigators appear to drag their feet on probes. Examples in his report included a sergeant accused of trying to explain away an officer's conduct to a woman who had called to complain about how she was treated.
In a pending case involving allegations of false reporting and perjury against an officer, Rosenthal said it took nearly two years for the department to order officers to turn over cellphone records crucial to the investigation.
"The subject officers have been left in their current patrol assignments making arrests, writing reports and testifying in court while the investigation continues to languish," Rosenthal wrote, adding that culture must change "to ensure unbiased, thorough and complete investigations and the appropriate documentation of such investigations."
Alex Martinez, a former Colorado Supreme Court justice who became the civilian head of the police, fire and sheriff's department in November, slammed Rosenthal for his critique, calling it "nitpicky."
He said it dealt with matters that didn't affect the outcome of investigations.
"I don't know what more the independent monitor adds to that when he's a harsh critic on things that are not of consequence, thereby unnecessarily bringing suspicion and disrepute to the police department," Martinez said during a news conference.
Martinez said the sergeant Rosenthal referred to in the report was new to the internal affairs and that police immediately "corrected" the matter.
Regarding officer cellphone records, Martinez said they have been turned over after a delay caused by a legal review of the constitutionality of requiring phone records be turned over.
Martinez agreed with Rosenthal that the process took too long and needed to be streamlined. He also added that Rosenthal certified as complete all but one internal investigation during his tenure and noted that Rosenthal's office was present during investigations and his investigators suggested questions.
Rosenthal's Office of Independent Monitor was created in 2005 following a string of deadly police shootings in the early 2000s that included the death of unarmed man and a developmentally disabled teen. It oversees internal investigations and excessive force complaints.
Rosenthal is leaving his post to take a similar position in British Columbia.
Following Martinez's response, Rosenthal issued a statement that suggested the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division investigate the department.
"He's obviously not understanding the significance of the deficiency, and I think the only thing this department will understand is outside intervention," Rosenthal told The Associated Press. "The department has established its inability to protect the public from police misconduct, including violations of civil rights."
In response, Martinez' office issued a written statement saying, "If Mr. Rosenthal truly believes an investigation by the Department of Justice is warranted, he should have requested it before now and not as an emotional response to my remarks that his criticisms are unwarranted."
U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Jeff Dorschner declined to comment, saying the Justice Department had not had an opportunity to review any such request.
Rosenthal's report came after repeated allegations of excessive force in recent years in a department that has 1,200 sworn officers and nearly 400 civilian personnel.
One former manager of safety, Ron Perea, resigned in 2010 following public outcry over his handling of discipline for two officers shown on video throwing a man to the ground outside a downtown nightclub in April 2009. He refused to fire the officers, saying he was following discipline guidelines.
The two were later fired by a new manager of safety, but they eventually got back their jobs, and the city is appealing their reinstatement.
Another former manager of safety, Al LaCabe, testified last month that some officers accept roughing up suspects as long as the injuries aren't too severe.
LaCabe testified in a case involving an officer fired over a beating that left a 16-year-old with a damaged liver and kidney.
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