DENVER (CBS4) – Embattled Denver Sheriff Gary Wilson has left his position but will remain in the department, Mayor Michael Hancock announced on Monday.
“Over the past several months, a number of incidents has shaken the public’s trust in the Denver Sheriff’s Department, and that is simply unacceptable,” Hancock said.
The mayor promised a “top-down review” of the department said the decision to remove Wilson will rebuild confidence among the public and civic leaders who criticized the sheriff’s department in recent months for excessive force against inmates and internal misconduct.
“Change will occur,” Hancock said. “We will hold sheriff’s deputies who make the wrong decisions accountable.” But he said he wanted to reinforce that Wilson and most deputies serve honorably.
Still, too many embarrassing incidents — including occurrences of violence against inmates, alleged drug and alcohol use and accusations of cover-ups — was too much for Hancock.
“It was a string of things. Every one of these just get to you,” the mayor said. “Quite frankly enough is enough, and that’s why we’re moving to make a change today.”
Elias Diggins, a department division chief who’s been with the department since 1994, will assume the sheriff’s duties on an interim basis as the department searches nationally for a permanent replacement.
The mayor said the string of incidents had affected him personally, “taking a little bit of heart and soul.” The decision, he said, will “send a strong message to deputies that we expect more and we want more.”
Wilson will not leave the sheriff’s office, Hancock said. He was a division chief and will return to that position, but it’s unclear where and how he will serve, Department of Safety Director Stephanie O’Malley said.
“The department let him down,” Hancock said of Wilson, adding that he had “nothing but respect and honor for Sheriff Wilson.”
Earlier this month, the department placed two deputies on administrative leave after an investigation into inappropriate use of force while booking an inmate. Deputy Thomas Ford is accused of inappropriate force in a 2011 attack on an inmate, and Deputy William Lewis is accused of writing an inaccurate report related to the incident.
The department has also placed Division Chief Frank Gale, who is charge of the county’s jail system, on investigative leave, CBS4 has learned. Gale was involved in a complaint lodged by another officer about the detention of a sheriff’s captain who had been arrested on assault charges.
In June, Wilson was implementing a six-step plan that would improve deputy behavior and jail conditions. The sheriff then said the department wanted to be proactive before problems arose. It would assign an agency mentor to new recruits, require recruits to identify a friend or family member to be a support system and offer training for spouses and significant others to recognize signs of stress at home.
That may continue. Wilson, who attended the news conference, said: “We have put a lot of things in place to try to address these issues. I have no doubt those particular recommendations will still be looked at (and) considered.”
Diggins said he’ll immediately perform a “holistic review of all of the recommendations that have been put into place thus far.”
According to a Denver Post review of city records last month, the department had 114 open internal affairs investigations as of June 26. Nearly a third concerned accusations of excessive force by deputies. Seventy of those investigations were opened this year, the Post reported.
“What we’ve seen is there are some good officers who are making some pretty bad decisions,” Wilson said in June.
In March, black pastors in Denver blasted city leaders, including Hancock, for ignoring allegations that the sheriff’s office employed excessive force and engaged in misconduct against inmates and citizens, especially blacks.
“I’m not just out outraged. I’m pissed,” Pastor Patrick Demmer of Graham Memorial Community Church told The Colorado Independent. “Here we are, all the way out of slavery, supposedly to a new day, an era when we have an African-American president and in Denver a black mayor, manager of safety, police chief and sheriff. I expect those who look like me to have a sense of obligation to ensure my safety and the safety of those who look like them.”
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– Written by Tim Skillern for CBSDenver.com