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Independent Police Monitor, Chief Disagree On Force Case

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Brian Maass By Brian Maass
CBS4 Investigates
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DENVER (CBS4) – Denver’s independent monitor, who oversees Denver law enforcement and safety agencies, says the Denver Police Department and Manager of Safety made the wrong call in not disciplining a female officer for her use of force on an intoxicated woman in a 2012 case that is just now coming to light.

A CBS4 investigation obtained surveillance videotapes, photos and interviews from the case which stemmed from a police call at the Renaissance West End Flats located at 1490 Zenobia Street on Dec. 28, 2012. Police say they received a 911 hang up call from apartment 315.

Patricia Lucero (credit; CBS)

Patricia Lucero (credit; CBS)

When two officers arrived to follow up on the 911 call, officers said they heard loud arguing emanating from the apartment. The occupants, identified as Patricia Lucero and Nickie Penaflor, had both been drinking and fighting.

Officers found Penaflor had an outstanding warrant so they arrested him. Lucero, however, was not wanted and was not arrested for a crime. But one of the two officers, Marika Putnam, decided to take Lucero to detox due to her inebriation and aggressiveness.

“That was a judgment call and a good call based on how aggressive the lady was,” said Police Chief Robert White. “Apparently the officer felt she (Lucero) was a harm to herself or others and that’s why they took her to detox.”

Lucero admitted having six beers that evening.

An image of Patricia Lucero  being escorted out of the apartment building (credit; CBS)

An image of Patricia Lucero being escorted out of the apartment building (credit; CBS)

But after being handcuffed, surveillance videotape from interior cameras at the apartment complex, reviewed and aired by CBS4, show Lucero twice crashing into walls headfirst while handcuffed and under the control of Officer Putnam. In written reports, police blame Lucero for causing herself to crash into walls. In one police account, summarizing Putnam’s actions, it says, “This redirecting action (by Putnam) caused Lucero to stumble forward and strike her head on the elevator alcove wall.”

In a statement, Putnam said that in the first crash into a wall, “I spun her around to move her to a safer position.” On the second time that Lucero ran into a wall, the officer said, “I believe that she stumbled due to her high intoxication level.” Asked if she had intentionally run Lucero into a wall, Putnam responded, “No.”

By the time Lucero reached the lobby of her apartment building she was bleeding profusely from a head wound. She was hospitalized and received stitches.

“She had no reason to hit me that hard,” Lucero later told a police sergeant in a videotaped interview. “We were walking to the elevator and she banged my head against the wall.”

Lucero complained she was a victim of excessive force. But a Denver police internal review of the incident exonerated Officer Putnam of unnecessary force. Chief White signed off on that recommendation.

“When I look at the totality, I think the officer’s actions were reasonable given the circumstances they were confronted with,” White said. “I think we came to the right decision. I don’t think the officer was excessive or malicious in her actions in dealing with the lady.

“As a result of her (Putnam’s) attempt to gain control, one time she (Lucero) hit her head on the wall and the other time hit her head against the elevator. I am convinced both those bumps were the result of the officer’s attempt to gain control, not intentional acts on the officer’s part.”

However, in a report released Thursday, Denver’s independent monitor, Nick Mitchell, took the opposite view, writing that Lucero was a victim of excessive force.

“One of the officers twice maneuvered the woman head-first towards walls in a manner that risked serious injury,” wrote Mitchell. “When taking individuals into protective custody, officers have an affirmative obligation to ‘make every reasonable effort to protect the detainee’s health and safety.’

“The Office of the Independent Monitor recommended that the officer be disciplined for using inappropriate force and failing to protect a detainee who was handcuffed and otherwise vulnerable, but the Manager of Safety’s Office did not accept our recommendation.”

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