2 deputies suspended for inmate incident
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.