2 deputies sus­pended for in­mate in­ci­dent

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Noelle Phillips

Two Denver Sher­iff De­part­ment deputies have been sus­pended for us­ing ex­ces­sive force against an in­mate who was locked in a cell but stick­ing his arms through a small open­ing in his cell door.

It’s a sit­u­a­tion that has led to other al­ter­ca­tions — and ac­cu­sa­tions of ex­ces­sive force — at the de­part­ment.

The man was stick­ing his arms through a small open­ing in his cell door, used to dis­trib­ute food and other items, and re­fused to with­draw his arms into the cell when asked, ac­cord­ing to a sher­iff’s re­port.

Deputy Daniel Tru­jillo, who was hired in 2014, was sus­pended with­out pay for 60 days af­ter he vi­o­lated the de­part­ment’s use-of-force pol­icy when he beat the in­mate’s out­stretched arms with nun­chaku and also used the weapon to squeeze the in­mate’s arms, ac­cord­ing to his dis­ci­plinary let­ter, which was ob­tained by The Denver Post through an open records re­quest.

Nun­chaku is a mar­tial arts weapon made of two sticks joined at one end by a short length of cord. Po­lice use the weapon for self-de­fense and to con­trol peo­ple.

It is Tru­jillo’s sec­ond sus­pen­sion this year. He pre­vi­ously sat out 30 days for fail­ing to re­spond quickly enough to an in­mate’s sui­cide at­tempt.

Deputy Matthew Ham­mernik, who started work­ing at the de­part­ment in 2016, was sus­pended with­out pay for 18 days for vi­o­lat­ing the de­part­ment’s use-of­force pol­icy when he used his nun­chaku to squeeze the in­mate’s arms, ac­cord­ing to his dis­ci­plinary let­ter.

Both deputies are ap­peal­ing their sus­pen­sions, Denver De­part­ment of Pub­lic Safety spokes­woman Dae­lene Mix said.

The in­ci­dent hap­pened on Oct. 16, 2016, in a unit at the Down­town De­ten­tion Cen­ter that houses dif­fi­cult in­mates, many of whom have men­tal ill­nesses. The deputies, along with some in­mates, were serv­ing an evening meal when the in­mate, who was iden­ti­fied only by his ini­tials in the dis­ci­plinary let­ters, would not re­move his arms from the slot in the door.

The in­mate was sui­ci­dal and had re­peat­edly been charged with felonies for as­sault­ing deputies, the let­ters said. He was no­to­ri­ous through­out the jail as a vi­o­lent in­mate and once was re­ferred to as “one of the dirty dozen” by a de­part­ment spokesman, Ham­mernik’s let­ter said.

The deputies had opened the flap to the nar­row slot to pass the in­mate his food and drink. He ac­cepted the food and drink but then left his hands and fore­arms stick­ing out through the open­ing, the let­ters said. The deputies said they tried for about two min­utes to talk the man into with­draw­ing his arms so they could close the flap, ac­cord­ing to the dis­ci­plinary let­ters and video footage of the in­ci­dent.

When the in­mate did not com­ply, the deputies tried to shove his arms in­side the slot. The in­mate re­sisted and threw juice at the deputies, the let­ters said.

That’s when Tru­jillo pulled

out his nun­chaku and be­gan striking the in­mate’s arms. He hit the in­mate three times, the let­ter said.

At one point, one of the in­mate’s arms got stuck and the two deputies helped him free it. But the strug­gle con­tin­ued and both deputies used their nun­chaku to ap­ply pres­sure on one of the in­mate’s fore­arms. The strug­gle lasted about three min­utes be­fore the in­mate pulled his arms in­side his cell and the door flap was locked, the dis­ci­plinary let­ters said.

The in­ci­dent was not the first time Denver deputies have used ex­ces­sive force against an in­mate who re­fused to keep his arms and hands in­side his cell.

Ear­lier this year, Deputy Thao Nguyen was sus­pend- ed for 10 days af­ter he used his Taser to shock the fin­gers of an in­mate who would not re­move his fin­gers from a door flap. That in­ci­dent hap­pened in 2015.

In 2016, Deputy Steven Roy­bal was fired for kick­ing a cell-door flap and smash­ing an in­mate’s fin­gers. The in­mate had be­come ag­i­tated dur­ing break­fast and had thrown hot cof­fee and a tray through the slot and had re­fused to move his fin­gers.

Deputies are wary of open door flaps be­cause in­mates some­times throw items, in­clud­ing bod­ily waste, through them. Tru­jillo and Ham­mernik said they be­lieved the cell’s open door flap posed a se­cu­rity risk, ac­cord­ing to the dis­ci­plinary let­ters.

The deputies told in­ves­ti­ga­tors they had not been trained to re­gain con­trol of open door flaps and they had run through their op­tions on gain­ing con­trol be­fore they chose to use force against the in­mate.

The de­part­ment does not specif­i­cally train deputies on door-flap se­cu­rity, Mix said. But they are trained to use the least amount of force nec­es­sary, some­thing deputies Tru­jillo and Ham­mernik did not do, she said.

Ham­mernik was a rookie on pro­ba­tion with the de­part­ment and should not have been as­signed to a spe­cial man­age­ment unit, per de­part­ment rules, his at­tor­neys ar­gued.

Ham­mernik had been trained to work in a spe­cial man­age­ment unit, Mix said. At times, new deputies are as­signed to spe­cial man­age­ment units even though they re­main on pro­ba­tion, and they are as­signed to work with more ex­pe­ri­enced part­ners, she said.

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