The Denver sheri≠ is criticized for ignoring and failing to report many complaints.
Denver’s independent monitor Wednesday criticized the sheriff ’s department for ignoring and failing to report a large of number of inmate complaints that required an investigation.
In an annual report, Independent Monitor Nick Mitchell said he is initiating a review of how the sheriff’s department handles grievances and complaints against its deputies. It is not the first time Mitchell has investigated the department’s inmate grievance process.
The sheriff ’s department admitted that a number of complaints filed in 2015 went missing, but it offered no explanation as to how it happened, saying the internal affairs bureau commander at the time no longer works for the sheriff.
“In 2015, a number of grievances were recorded on a spreadsheet by a previous administrator. As the monitor has pointed out in previous reports, some of the original grievances, recorded on the spreadsheet, went missing. The DSD regrets the oversight and now ensures all grievances are filed appropriately,” sheriff’s spokesman Simon Crittle said in a statement.
Inmate grievances can be wideranging, involving complaints about food quality or uncomfortable bedding to excessive force or racial slurs used by deputies. The missing complaints referenced in the monitor’s report were of a
more serious nature and would have merited an investigation.
The complaints that had been ignored were discovered after Mitchell’s office raised questions in 2015 about a significant drop in the number of inmate complaints being reported even though the inmate population at the city’s two jails has been rising.
Between 2014 and 2016, complaints dropped 60 percent from 420 to 170, the report said.
“While there can be many reasons for fluctuations in complaint patterns, this decrease is especially striking considering rising jail populations in both DSD jails in 2016,” the report said.
In his statement, Crittle said the falling number of complaints is a sign that reforms in the internal affairs bureau are working.
“We are pleased the Independent Monitor has recognized written grievances have dropped ‘precipitously.’ The results show that reforms put in place to ad- dress inmate needs have been successful,” Crittle said.
However, Michael Gennaco, whose OIR Group was one of two consulting firms to review the sheriff’s department in 2015, said the department should not claim reform successes just because inmate complaints are on the decline, especially when records have disappeared.
“I find it remarkable that in the same report where they admit a shortcoming in their record-keeping process, they would follow up by taking credit for an overall decrease in complaint numbers,” Gennaco said.
When the monitor’s office first started asking about the complaints in 2015, the staff could see they had been made because they were recorded in a spreadsheet kept by a former internal affairs bureau commander. The cases had been marked as requiring a formal or informal investigation, according to the monitor’s 2015 semi-annual report.
However, a large number of inmate complaints from the spreadsheet were never entered into the sheriff’s department’s complaint tracking database that the monitor’s office uses to access and follow investigations, the monitor’s report said. It is unclear how many reports were misplaced, but the monitor’s office said it could be dozens.
The monitor made multiple requests for copies of the complaints, but the sheriff’s department never handed them over.
Earlier this month, Maj. Jodi Blair, the department’s new internal affairs commander, told Mitchell in an e-mail that “it is unknown where the original complaints went after being entered into the complaints spreadsheet