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City fo Denver plans to share more information about police misconduct settlements

The city spent over $17 million to settle police misconduct lawsuits last year, but few details about settlement agreements are disclosed to the public.
Posted at 7:47 PM, Apr 19, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-19 21:48:10-04

DENVER — The City of Denver plans to share more information about police-related lawsuits to increase transparency and accountability. It comes after a watchdog group called out the city for its lack of transparency regarding such lawsuits.

Over the past year, Denver has paid more than $17 million to settle police-related lawsuits, according to the Citizen Oversight Board, which seeks to hold the city’s law enforcement agencies accountable for their actions. Beyond that whopping dollar amount, hardly anything is known about those settlements.

The details of most settlement agreements involving police are not disclosed to the public.

“That's a real disservice to the community members who are harmed by the departments, but also in pursuit of a better public safety system,” said Julia Richman, chair of the Citizen Oversight Board.

She said lawsuits involving police misconduct often have provisions or terms that go beyond money. In some cases, departments even agree to make changes to policies or practices to ensure whatever happened that caused the lawsuit doesn’t happen again.

“Where the board is right now is just trying to get the basics of facts around how many settlements are there, what are the terms that are non-monetary terms in the settlements, where are those tracked,” said Richman. “The [Office of the Independent Monitor] doesn't have a formalized role in this today. Often they find out about the settlements in the same way that everyone else does — in the newspaper or on the news.”

In November 2023, the Citizen Oversight Board released an open letter to Denver Mayor Mike Johnston and other city leaders calling for more transparency. The mayor’s office and the Department of Public Safety said they were committed to transparency.

“The City and County of Denver and the Johnston Administration are committed to accountability throughout the city, and we are always open to meeting with the Citizen Oversight Board to discuss opportunity for improvements,” Johnston said in a statement at the time. “Citizens' trust that the City will enforce and follow through with settlement agreements is crucial, and we will continue to work diligently to ensure we meet Denverites' expectations.”

“Basically nothing has changed since the board sent our letter in November,” said Richman.

Denver City Councilman Darrell Watson said the council gets a detailed briefing behind closed doors in executive session before it decides to approve money for a police-related settlement.

“All of that information is clear,” Watson said. “What is not clear is that the Denver Police Department is taking different actions.”

Watson said the city must be more transparent about whether it is upholding all of the promises it made in the settlements.

“We must have more transparency. We must have more accountability that these things won't continue to happen,” said Watson. “Each dollar we pay is some resident, someone who is harmed by Denver police in some way or form. We cannot continue to make those payments out, make those votes without knowing that there's an outcome.”

The Department of Public Safety (DOS), which the Denver Police Department is a part of, told Denver7 on Friday that its executive director, Armando Saldate, has had several conversations with the Citizen Oversight Board since they sent their letter.

“In those conversations, he agreed that moving forward, any non-monetary settlement terms involving safety departments will be posted on the website until compliance is established. This will include DOS posting documents that confirm compliance with such terms,” said Kelly Jacobs, executive director of communications for the department and a strategic advisor to Saldate.

Jacobs added that settlements are available to the public through records requests. However, she noted that “agreements involving employees may be subject to confidentiality terms and not be available for public release.”

Jacobs also said if any non-monetary terms have not been complied with, the city can be sued by the plaintiff for breaching the agreement.

“To date, we are not aware of any such lawsuits involving DOS or the agencies it oversees,” said Jacobs.

In a follow-up statement to Denver7, Jacob said there have not been any settlement agreements with non-monetary terms approved since Saldate made his commitment to the Citizen Oversight Board. As a result, Jacobs said, “The new process will begin with the next approved non-monetary settlement agreement involving DOS.”

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