DENVER –The Civil Service Commission ruled Monday that two officers can be terminated for a high-profile, videotaped beating in a case that cost one top-ranking city official his job and sparked calls for a federal civil-rights investigation.
In making its decision, the commission said the manager of safety, who is the civilian head of the police, fire and sheriff’s departments, has the authority to reverse course on discipline.
City officials have said the process frustrated them as they try to restore public confidence after several high-profile excessive force cases.
“In my view, this significant decision correctly holds that the authority of the manager of safety includes the implied powers necessary to exercise disciplinary control of the Denver Police Department,” Alex Martinez, manager of safety, said in a statement.
The termination of officers Randy Murr and Devin Sparks now heads to a three-person hearing panel that will examine the merits of the case.
Officials from the Denver Police Protective Association, which assists the officers with their cases, did not immediately return messages.
Both officers were fired in March 2011 for lying about the aggressive arrest of Michael DeHerrera in April 2009 outside a downtown nightclub. At first, former safety manager Ron Perea disciplined the officers for filing an inaccurate report about the incident that said no excessive force was used.
Former Denver Independent Monitor Richard Rosenthal, whose office monitors police excessive force allegations, had said the officers should have been fired, and Perea’s decision was criticized by community leaders. Perea stepped down in August 2010 amid the criticism.
Former Denver Safety Manager Charles Garcia said he fired both officers for deceptive acts, and Sparks received additional discipline for use of excessive force.
Decided Monday was a technical issue about whether the manager of safety could impose a different discipline following the expiration of an appeal deadline built into the disciplinary process. It reverses a panel’s decision in September to reinstate the officers.
Video taken by city surveillance cameras showed DeHerrera on a cellphone and then being thrown to the ground and something being struck in the corner of the frame as the camera panned away. In a lawsuit, DeHerrera said he was screaming for help and was slammed face first into the sidewalk by an officer trying to take him down.
An officer hit DeHerrera repeatedly with a piece of lead wrapped in leather, according to the lawsuit. DeHerrera was taken to the hospital and later to jail.
Assault, resisting arrest and other charges against DeHerrera and another man were dropped. Both men settled their cases for $15,500 each.
“This is precedent setting,” Earl Peterson, the commission’s executive director, said of the board’s decision to allow the officers to be terminated. “Normally it’s a mediated discipline. This is, he’s fired, no he’s not. The gloves are off on this one.”
Murr had been involved in the January 2009 beating during a traffic stop of then 19-year-old Alexander Landau, who suffered brain injuries and trauma that resulted in a $795,000 settlement with the city, according to court and city documents.
“These officers should not only not be on the street, they should be prosecuted,” said Mu Son Chi of the Colorado Progressive Coalition, which led a petition drive that collected 1,000 signatures seeking a federal investigation. “There are institutional problems.”
Before leaving for a similar position in British Columbia, former monitor Rosenthal criticized the police for the length of time it takes for internal investigations and also called for a federal inquiry.
FBI spokesman Dave Joly said results of the police investigations into the DeHerrera case, as well as the sheriff’s investigation into the July 2010 death of jail inmate Marvin Booker, have been forwarded to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Officials there did not immediately return a message.