DENVER (CBS4) – The shooting of a teenage girl by Denver police last week has brought renewed attention to Denver’s independent monitor, and now a city councilman wants to strengthen the office.
Investigators are still investigating the deadly shooting of 17-year-old Jessie Hernandez by Denver police. She died after being shot by police in a Park Hill alley. The district attorney’s office told CBS4 Tuesday that there’s no timeline for determining if the shooting was justified.
The shooting also brought back attention to a conflict between the independent monitor and Denver’s safety agencies. Councilman Paul Lopez says the independent monitor in some cases has had to repeatedly ask for documents to complete an investigation, stalling them for months. Now he’s proposing new ordinances to address that issue.
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The ordinances would apply to the three Denver safety agencies — Denver police, as well as the sheriff and the fire departments. It would require the three agencies to fully cooperate with the Office of the Independent Monitor during investigations, including monitor members being present during parts of internal investigations.
Lopez is also asking that the agencies provide the independent monitor complete access to safety records within a reasonable amount of time. If they can’t provide the access, they have to give a written explanation as to why not.
Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell says in the past they’ve had at least one incident of a lack of access to certain documents.
“It doesn’t have to be adversarial … if we are playing nice and everyone is sharing information, and we are sharing ideas,” Mitchell said.
Lopez says he realizes nearly all of the men and women that serve in Denver do the right thing, but when incidents to the contrary come up, hopefully the new ordinances help restore public trust in the independent investigation process.
“There are some instances where information wasn’t shared in a timely manner, and the independent monitor, in order for him to do his job, he has to have access to that information,” Lopez said. “We want to make sure that the process is streamlined, that there’s accountability, and that there’s a process for each department to follow to make sure he gets that information on time.”
Department of Safety officials and Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey expressed worry over access to internal private information, namely victims, and the exact role the monitor plays in regulation.
“The independent monitor is not a law enforcement position,” Morrissey said.
But both support the idea of more oversight and accountability.
“You have to have folks who are in uniform, serving (on) a daily basis, in a dignified way, feel like they have the support of the community to do their job,” Lopez said. “And 99.9 percent of them are doing that.”
A committee hearing was held on the ordinances Tuesday afternoon and the proposed ordinances were approved to advance to the full city council. They could be enacted as early as the end of the month.