Black Pastors in Denver, CO Denounce Sheriff’s Department for ‘Jim Crow-like Behavior’

Black Pastors in Denver, CO Denounce Sheriff's Department for ‘Jim Crow-like Behavior’

Outraged by misconduct in the Denver Sheriff’s Department, a coalition of African-American pastors is demanding that Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration implement reform.

At issue for the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance is a string of snafus about which Hancock and even the city’s official safety watchdog have remained mum. In one case, a sheriff’s deputy slammed a fully shackled inmate into a window of a Denver courtroom without provocation. The attack was caught on videotape. In another case, a deputy plucked an innocent black man off Colfax Avenue in a rogue manhunt for a prisoner the same deputy mistakenly let loose from jail.

The beating victim and the man wrongly apprehended are both black.

The pastors are blasting Mayor Hancock, Safety Department Executive Director Stephanie O’Malley and Sheriff Gary Wilson – all of whom are black – for ignoring misconduct cases, especially ones in which African Americans are targeted.

“We have not seen the mayor. We have not heard from the mayor. Where is the mayor about all this?” said the Rev. Reginald Holmes of Denver’s New Covenant Christian Church/Alpha Omega Ministries.

“I’m not just out outraged. I’m pissed,” added Pastor Patrick Demmer of Graham Memorial Community Church. “Here we are, all the way out of slavery, supposedly to a new day, an era when we have an African-American president and in Denver a black mayor, manager of safety, police chief and sheriff. I expect those who look like me to have a sense of obligation to ensure my safety and the safety of those who look like them.”

The sheriff’s department has come under fire in recent years for imprisoning the wrong people after mistaking their identity. Those blunders led to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado. Disability rights advocates sued the department for failing to provide sign language interpreters to some deaf prisoners. The Latino community has raised concerns about the department’s treatment of Latino prisoners – especially non-English speakers who have struggled to communicate about medical needs and grievances. One of the department’s most vocal critics has been Butch Montoya, a former city safety manager who now leads a Latino faith initiative. It was Montoya who called the latest spate of misconduct cases to the attention of the black pastors, with whom he works closely in watchdogging city safety issues.

The Ministerial Alliance is a powerful force in metro Denver’s black community, which has a long history of discontent with law enforcement. In recent years, community members railed against the sheriff’s department for the 2010 death of 56-year-old street preacher Marvin Booker after Booker was forcefully restrained by a gaggle of sheriff’s deputies in the holding area of the city jail. The pastors also cried out in 2011 when Alonzo Ashley died after police subdued him with a stun gun during an altercation at the Denver Zoo.

Autopsies deemed both Booker and Ashley’s deaths to be homicides. Yet in both cases, officers dodged criminal charges and even disciplinary measures by the safety department.

A more recent spate of misconduct cases came to light starting with a Colorado Independent article about a September 2012 sheriff’s deputy grabbing Anthony Waller, an inmate whose arms and legs were fully shackled, and slamming him into a courtroom window without provocation. That deputy, Brady Lovingier, is the son of Bill Lovingier, a former longtime head of the sheriff’s department. It took the judge in the courtroom, Doris Burd, to ask for an investigation. Safety officials waited more than a year to discipline Lovingier for the attack and for his statements about it, which contradicted courtroom videotapes and internal affairs investigators deemed to be “untruthful.”

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Source: Colorado Independent | Susan Greene

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