By Kelly Werthmann
DENVER (CBS4)– The Denver Sheriff’s union is blaming the department’s use of force policy for recent attacks of deputies by inmates.
Early Thursday morning, inmate Jasmine Pittman reportedly attacked two female deputies as she was being booked into the downtown jail.
According to a Denver police report, Pittman punched one of the deputies and violently pulled her hair as well as scratch her and another deputy when they tried to escort her to a cell. The union’s vice president said such attacks are common ever since the Denver Sheriff Department revised its use of force policy last year.
“What this is creating is a hostile environment and the inmates know it,” Michael Britton, Vice President of Denver Sheriff’s Fraternal Order of Police, said.
Videos of deputy-involved altercations with inmates ultimately led the department to add a de-escalation section to its policy. It advises deputies to use their words to control a situation instead of force, unless there’s an imminent threat.
“But when that doesn’t help,” Britton said of the verbal approach, “nobody knows what to do next.”
Britton told CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann deputies are afraid of making any physical moves, even if warranted, because of what could happen next.
“We’re afraid that if we engage we’re going to have an internal affairs case and we’re afraid of getting terminated,” he said. “We’ve had inmate on staffing assaults since this new use of force policy came out. We’ve lost control of this jail.”
A big part of the problem, Britton said, is the 36-page use of force policy is ambiguous and confusing to staff. He believes deputies are not getting proper time or training to understand it.
“Officers are walking away, instead of walking to a problem,” Britton said. “Eventually what we’re going to see is when you give that much latitude to inmates that are inside a secured facility is a takeover.”
CBS4 reached out to the Denver Sheriff Department for comment and received the following statement from Sheriff Patrick Firman: “We value our employees and have put a lot of effort into helping them understand the use of force policy. Last year, revisions were made to enhance clarity, staff received 10 hours of training, training bulletins were developed and shared, and we sought line staff input. Following those efforts, staff shared that they wanted additional training and clarifying revisions to the policy. As a result, language was modified and staff received scenario-based training this year. To further support our staff’s understanding of the policy, we are also creating an internal employee work group to review it and propose changes that support its clarity, fairness and achievability from an employee perspective.”
The police report confirmed there is surveillance video of the attack of the two deputies, but due to the ongoing investigation, it could not be released. As for the women allegedly assaulted by Pittman, they received treatment for their injuries at a Denver hospital and were released.
Kelly Werthmann joined the CBS4 team as the morning reporter in 2012. After serving as weekend morning anchor, Kelly is now Covering Colorado First for CBS4 News at 10. Connect with Kelly on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @KellyCBS4.