DENVER (AP) – A federal judge has asked the U.S. attorney’s office to investigate whether Denver police officers broke the law when they spoke with a key witness in a federal civil rights lawsuit, the latest in a series of high-profile misconduct allegations against Denver police and sheriff’s deputies.
Judge John Kane also wants an investigation into patterns and practices of the police and sheriff’s departments. Court documents released Tuesday confirmed his request, first made during a Friday hearing in a lawsuit filed by Jamal Hunter.
Hunter alleges a sheriff’s deputy not only failed to protect him during a July 2011 beating by fellow jail inmates but encouraged the attack.
Hunter, now 39, said he was attacked after his cellmates accused him of snitching. He said they punched him, tied him up and burned his genitals with hot water from a spigot.
One of the inmates who participated in the beating, Amos Page, became a witness in the civil rights lawsuit. He said in a sworn affidavit that a Denver sheriff’s deputy, Gaynel Rumer, knew inmates were planning the attack and helped facilitate it.
Among other allegations, Page said the attack could not have happened without Rumer’s involvement, and the deputy ignored Hunter’s screams.
Rumer’s attorney, Thomas Rice, said the deputy denies the allegations. A police department spokesman declined to comment, citing the pending lawsuit.
Hunter’s attorneys last month sought an emergency hearing after learning that Denver police internal affairs sergeants Brian Cotter and Brad Lenderink spoke with Page in prison March 10. Hunter’s attorneys said the officers told Page he could face criminal prosecution if he testifies.
Before the hearing Friday, Kane listened to a recording of the officers’ conversation with Page and read a transcript, neither of which has been made public.
Kane said the conversation showed a “deliberate process of intimidation” of Page, an essential witness in the case.
“All one has to do to see that is read the complaint and affidavit of Amos Page,” the judge said, according to a hearing transcript. Kane added the sheriff’s department has its own internal affairs unit, and he didn’t understand why police were involved.
An attorney for the city, Cathy Havener Greer, told the judge she would look into it.
Kane wants the U.S. attorney’s office to determine whether the officers broke laws against witness tampering and intimidation.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office said it has received Kane’s request, but he declined to comment further.
“It’s extremely rare for a judge to refer a case for prosecution to the U.S. attorney’s office,” said defense attorney David Lane, who is not involved in the Hunter case but has other federal civil rights lawsuits pending against Denver law enforcement. One of them involves a street preacher who died after Denver sheriff’s deputies restrained him in jail.
Lane and his partner Darold Killmer hope the judge’s request will prompt the FBI to re-examine that case and others.
“He (Kane) has asked an independent federal agency to take a look at what’s going on in Denver,” Lane said. “No judge would lightly refer allegations of police misconduct to the FBI.”
Hunter attorney Qusair Mohamedbhai said the situation involving Page “only increases Mr. Hunter’s resolve to expose Denver’s pattern of corruption and abuse.”
In the past two weeks alone, three Denver officers have been arrested for off-duty offenses, including possession of child pornography, domestic violence and assault stemming from a drunken brawl. The second highest-ranking member of the sheriff’s department resigned abruptly last year and was later indicted on charges that he stole more than $20,000 worth of tax software from Target stores by hiding it in bags of dog food.
– By Sadie Gurman, AP Writer
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