DENVER (CBS4) – A City of Denver hearing officer has ordered the Denver Sheriff’s Department to reinstate Dep. Matthew Carothers, who the department fired in March of last year over what the sheriff’s department and the manager of safety viewed as a case of excessive force and lying.
“He was very, very grateful and happy and felt vindicated,” said Danny Foster, Carothers’ attorney, shortly after learning that the termination order had been overturned.
The firing stemmed from an incident on Nov. 20, 2009. Carothers and a second deputy were assigned to pick up an inmate, Alfredo Martinez, from a Denver police substation. But when Carothers attempted to move the apparently drunk inmate out of his cell, video cameras showed the deputy grabbing at Martinez’s handcuffs, yanking the prisoner through the cell door and into a cinder block wall where the prisoners head slams against the wall. Martinez needed nine stitches for the wound.
“He did feel bad, he still feels bad Martinez got hurt, but he did not intend to hurt Martinez,” Foster said.
The sheriff’s department and the manager of safety ruled that Carothers should be fired for using excessive force and lying about what occurred. Carothers appealed the termination, saying what happened was an accident and that he never lied about anything.
Last week Career Service hearing officer Bruce Plotkin agreed with Carothers. After analyzing the videotapes and testimony, Plotkin ruled that while Carothers may have pulled too hard on the prisoner, any injuries were unintentional and the deputy had no malicious intentions and was not trying to hurt Martinez.
“The most egregious factors were not established,” Plotkin wrote. “The agency failed to prove Carothers intentionally inflicted harm on Martinez and that he lied about the incident … the agency’s decision to impose dismissal was clearly excessive because it was based substantially upon considerations not supported by a preponderance of the evidence.”
Plotkin ruled that Carothers should receive a 10-day suspension over what happened and should be reinstated with back pay and benefits.
Foster contends the manager of safety “rushed to judgment” after seeing the videotapes and did a faulty investigation.
“And the problem is they did not take the time to investigate this,” Foster said. “I think they were afraid there would be bad press, and afraid they would look bad if they did not do something. The problem is Carothers did not use excessive force and did not try to injure this individual.”
Foster maintains Carothers used justifiable force, not excessive force, to control the inmate.
The Denver Sheriff’s Department and manager of safety declined to be interviewed by CBS4 about the ruling. Deputy Manager of Safety Ashley Kilroy issued the following statement: “Based on the evidence, I believe I took appropriate action in terminating Dep. Carothers and I am disappointed with the hearing officer’s decision to overturn the termination. The Manager of Safety’s Office has asked the City Attorney’s Office to appeal the decision.”
Foster said Carothers is considering his options but feels betrayed by his department and embarrassed by what he has gone through.
“If you’re going to take away their career, you can’t do it without a very thorough investigation. And when people bring evidence to you, you should review it to make sure you’re making the right decision, and fortunately for Carothers, the truth came out and he was exonerated,” Foster said.
– The 19-page hearing officer’s decision reinstating Carothers
Below is a Web Extra video of two camera views of what occurred between Carothers and the inmate with unedited videotape. A caution, some of the language on the tape is strong and profane: