In­mates short-shrifted

The Den­ver sheri≠ is crit­i­cized for ig­nor­ing and fail­ing to re­port many com­plaints.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Noelle Phillips

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

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