Denver’s police watchdog is investigating more than 150 complaints about officers’ response to protests following the death last week of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota.
The concerns have been lodged with the city’s independent law enforcement monitor, who on Tuesday told The Colorado Sun that he is investigating. Additionally, several members of Denver’s City Council have asked for a broad review of officers’ use of force against demonstrators, which has included tear gas and less-lethal projectiles.
“In the last 72 hours we’ve received over 150 complaints from members of the public related to police conduct during the demonstrations,” said Nick Mitchell, Denver’s independent monitor of the city’s police and sheriff departments.
Mitchell said a number of the complaints are regarding the same incidents, but his office has also fielded general concern from the public about police tactics.
“We’ve also gotten commendations for the police department associated with the demonstrations,” he said.
Police Chief Paul Pazen and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock have said officers have responded with force only after being hit by rocks, water bottles and other items and in response to other unsafe behavior.
But videos have shown and Colorado Sun journalists have witnessed police using force without provocation on demonstrators, who gathered on Tuesday for a sixth straight day.
“Protests against police abuse should not result in more police abuse,” Denver City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca said in a letter to Denver’s independent police monitor and the city’s department of safety. “It appears that once the decision was made to shut down the protests, everyone present was targeted with the same level of violence, resulting in injuries, some requiring emergency care. At the very least, the excessive police response has caused trauma to an already traumatized and grieving community.”
Chris Hinds, a Denver city councilman, is also asking for a probe into police actions.
“We need a full investigation of what happened in our community. Let’s look at those body cameras to see who did what,” Hinds wrote in an email to constituents.
Additionally, Denver City Councilman Paul Kashmann has asked the city’s law enforcement leadership to talk to City Council about their use-of-force policy in crowd control situations.
Denver police also launched an internal affairs investigation into an Instagram post from one of the department’s officers showing him and his comrades dressed in protective gear with a caption that read “let’s start a riot.” On Tuesday, they announced the officer, Thomas McClay, had been fired for violating the department’s social media policy.
A Denver Police Department spokesman, in a statement to The Sun, said that its internal affairs unit “is investigating different complaints.”
The Colorado Sun asked Gov. Jared Polis if he had seen any troubling behavior by law enforcement during the protests and whether he would join calls for an investigation into the response.
“It’s my understandinding that the Denver Police Department has said they will investigate the tactics that they used during the demonstration,” Polis said at a news conference Tuesday. “I was very happy to see the Denver police chief join arm-and-arm with the protesters in solidarity.”
The Colorado State Patrol, which reports to Polis, is also investigating after one of the agency’s troopers fired a non-lethal foam round at a 9News reporter on Saturday night near the Capitol.
The patrol says troopers didn’t know that they were firing on a reporter and that he was facing away from them at the time. The reporter, Jeremy Jojola, said on Twitter that he “was clearly with a photographer just after I went live with a large camera and light.”
The State Patrol said it wants to work with the media to avoid a repeat incident and that it “has not nor will not target the media and we are committed to your safety.”
Polis, who had not publicly spoken about the protests until Tuesday, said he will make sure that the exact actions “are fully accountable to me” and vowed to hold people accountable if necessary.
The governor said he hadn’t addressed the protests in person — he has released statements — because he has “really been focusing on listening mode.” Polis described Floyd’s death as a murder and said “we need to listen to the voices that are calling out for reform.”
U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn, whose office investigates police misconduct, said he is not reviewing officers’ actions. “Nothing has occurred to date, in this past week, that has given us cause to investigate or have concern,” Dunn said.
The Colorado Attorney General’s Office would not confirm Tuesday if it was investigating the police response.
On Monday night, police did not initially confront demonstrators even after they defied the city’s 9 p.m. curfew. It wasn’t until about midnight that a clash occurred.
In previous days, police and demonstrators began skirmishes much earlier.
Protests have remained peaceful until dusk when violent clashes between police and demonstrators have broken out and lasted several hours. Organizers have pleaded with demonstrators to remain peaceful and non-destructive, but some have disregarded those requests.
Buildings have been vandalized, stores have been looted and fires have been set. About 300 protesters have been arrested by Denver police.
Denver is under a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew until at least Friday as a result of the demonstrations. The Colorado National Guard and police from surrounding agencies have been called in to help respond.
On Tuesday by 5 p.m., hundreds were already gathered at the Capitol. They were waving signs and chanting, calling for action to be taken to prevent police brutality.
Editors Larry Ryckman and Eric Lubbers contributed to this report.