By Mark Ackerman and Brian Maass
DENVER (CBS4) – Police body cameras in Colorado and around the country have changed the way law enforcement investigates citizen complaints — providing an “instant replay” to determine if an officer acted professionally or crossed the line.
Last November, Pueblo police officer Benjamin Candelaria was charged with sexually assaulting a woman after responding to a domestic violence call. Authorities say the officer’s body camera showed him returning to the house after fellow officers left, having a sexual conversation with the woman, and then turning off the body camera. Candelaria resigned and is due in court Oct. 5 for his arraignment.
In July 2016, a Commerce City police officer chased an anti-police protestor through traffic trying to arrest him. His own camera caught him shooting his Taser at the protester.
Another officer stepped in and put a stop to the chase, stating the protester was on public property and had a right to be there. The officer resigned before a final decision occurred regarding discipline.
More frequently though, police say body cameras are helping clear officers of false complaints which are often filed by people trying to avoid punishment.
Deputy Chief Lee Mathis of the Erie Police Department said the body camera often clarifies “he said, she said” complaints. Mathis pointed to one example where an officer stopped a woman for speeding. The motorist later filed a complaint stating the police officer lacked compassion for her health concerns. But, reviewing the officer’s body camera, it was clear to Mathis the officer acted professionally.
“It appeared to us that the officer did well and asked her several times if she was OK,” said Mathis, who invites the public to view body-camera footage when there is a complaint. “Ninety-plus percent of our complaints we clear by looking at those videos.”
In southern Colorado, the Custer County Sheriff investigated a complaint that one of his deputies was rude and talked down to a man she pulled over for speeding in a school zone.
The speeder objected to the citation, telling the deputy, “You shouldn’t be writing tickets to people who live here in town. That’s not right and if you do I’m going to fight it.”
After reviewing the video, Sheriff Shannon Byerly said, “You can see his allegations were completely frivolous.”
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Lone Tree police arrested a man for false reporting after he filed a complaint claiming he was shoved and punched by a police officer while he was stopped for driving under the influence.
“We take it seriously and investigate every complaint,” said Lone Tree police Chief Kirk Wilson.
Lone Tree police watched the video with the suspect who later agreed he was wrong.
“The officer was exonerated and the event never occurred,” said Wilson.
The suspect pleaded guilty to false reporting.
Currently, 22 of Colorado’s 63 sheriff’s offices have body cameras. Four more sheriffs plan to deploy body cameras by the end of 2017.
54 out of 109 Colorado police departments invested in body-worn cameras