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Denver deputy fired for failing to stop partner from speeding down I-25 with inmates in back of van

Investigation revealed deputies hit speeds near 100 mph on I-25
Posted at 6:21 PM, Jul 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-07 20:21:18-04

DENVER – A deputy who had been with the Denver Sheriff Department for 20 years was fired last week for multiple department violations surrounding his failure to stop his fellow deputy from speeding down I-25 along with another vehicle in January.

Deputy Jason Martinez received notice of his dismissal from the department in a letter from Denver Deputy Director of Safety Mary Dulacki dated June 30 for the Jan. 16 incident that also involved Deputy James Grimes. Our partners at The Denver Post first reported Martinez's punishment on Monday.

Colorado State Patrol troopers had been notified just after noon that day that callers on Interstate 25 had spotted a red pickup truck and the transport van that Grimes was driving and in which Martinez was a passenger driving at speeds of around 100 miles per hour.

The CSP’s air unit was flying at the time and spotted the two vehicles driving near Monument at high rates of speed, according to a discipline report for Martinez.

Both deputies were on transport duty that day. Martinez had driven some inmates to the Crowley County Correction Facility, then to a jail in Baca County. But Grimes was driving the vehicle back to the Downtown Detention Center in Denver from Baca County with three inmates in the back of the vehicle.

During the investigation into Martinez’s and Grimes’s actions that day, both deputies claimed they feared they were going to be ambushed by the other driver, who was eventually arrested by CSP troopers on suspicion of DUI and other charges.

Both claimed they were having to make split-second decisions to keep themselves and the inmates, along with others on the road, safe, though the internal affairs review found that the deputies were speeding for more than 20 minutes – and had even tried to out-run the other truck to get in front of it.

The investigation found the inmate transport van was going over 100 mph in a 60-mph construction zone, though both Grimes and Martinez claimed they were not sure how fast they were going.

Martinez also told investigators that he did not have time to call a supervisor or backup if they feared for their life or feared an ambush might happen. He said he was also worried about cell phone reception in the area.

But an inmate who was in the van that day and later filed a complaint about the incident after seeing a report on Grimes’ charges told investigators that he believed the deputies had been driving about that fast from Pueblo up through the Monument area. The inmates were not wearing seatbelts, and the one who spoke with investigators said the deputies were “blasting” music while “hauling ass on the highway.”

“I mean we were making cars look like they were sitting still,” the inmate recounted, according to the report. “Just weaving traffic, especially the construction zone. We were flying.”

After troopers pulled the van over and talked with Grimes, he was allowed to finish the transport but then went to the gun range with Martinez before they were called to speak with the chief.

Martinez had been pulled over in October 2019 on Highway 9 in Grand County by another CSP trooper, who said he was driving about 10-19 miles over the speed limit. But the trooper only gave him a warning, and the discipline report says that Martinez did not report the incident. Grimes was with him at the time.

But when Martinez was asked if he’d been pulled over before, he told investigators he did not recall, though Grimes recounted the incident plainly.

That, according to Dulacki, was one of the violations he incurred that resulted in his being fired.

“Viewing the above as a whole, it is more likely than not that Deputy Martinez knowingly committed deceptive acts during his interview with AIU,” she wrote in the letter.

But she added that investigators did not believe Martinez’s claims as to why he failed to stop Grimes from speeding, as he should have per department policy.

“Though Deputy Martinez was not the one behind the wheel, that did not relieve him of his responsibility to ensure the safe and secure transport of the three inmates in the van. There is no evidence of Deputy Martinez objecting to Deputy Grimes’ illegal reckless driving or attempting to report it. In fact, during his AIU interview, Deputy Martinez minimized and defended Deputy Grimes’ driving in an attempt to justify his own personal inaction,” Dulacki wrote.

And she dismissed his claims about why he and Grimes apparently feared they were going to be “ambushed,” as he called it, during the ordeal.

“Assuming that Deputy Martinez’s fears were valid, it defies logic that he or any reasonable person under similar circumstances, would have handled the situation in the manner in which he did,” Dulacki wrote. “There is no evidence to support the scenarios Deputy Martinez described. If the deputies were in danger, the actions taken by Deputy Grimes’ speeding and driving recklessly would have only exacerbated the danger.”

All three violations would have warranted 90-day suspensions, Dulacki wrote, but met aggravated status whose only remedy was termination. Martinez had previously been suspended for sleeping on duty, playing cards while on duty and was reprimanded for other violations.

Martinez has been employed with the DSD since 2000 and has a 14-day window to file an appeal, which would be next Tuesday.

Grimes was charged in January with reckless driving, three counts of reckless endangerment and speeding. Court records show the case has yet to be resolved.

Both deputies were reassigned and placed on administrative leave after the incident, the sheriff’s department said in January.

Dulacki said Grimes is currently on FMLA leave and that “his disciplinary process is on hold until he can participate.”