Denver task force recommends tougher punishment for deputies who lie, abuse inmates

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DENVER — Public safety officials want to toughen the punishment for Denver sheriff's deputies who use excessive force against inmates, after a series of high-profile abuse and misconduct cases.

A task force studying how to reform the troubled sheriff's department this week released a list of 32 recommended changes to the way deputies are disciplined. They include steeper penalties for deputies who lie, abandon their posts and intentionally hurt inmates.

The group of officials and community members says it also wants to improve the quality and speed of investigations into deputy misconduct. Their plan would prioritize certain allegations, such as inappropriate force, poor treatment of inmates and deception.

Supervisors also would face more pressure to properly handle and report the use of force, among other recommendations.

The recommendations are part of the department's effort to make sweeping changes following a number of excessive force cases involving inmates, including one who received a $3.3 million settlement in a jail abuse lawsuit. Former Sheriff Gary Wilson stepped down after the settlement, believed to be the largest payout in city history to settle a civil rights case.

Other excessive force cases captured on video have stirred public outrage.

"There is a lot on the table, and we have considerable work ahead of us," Mayor Michael Hancock said in a statement, adding that he hopes the changes will restore public trust and create stable leadership.

The state's Fraternal Order of Police, which represents most of the department's approximately 730 deputies, is still studying the proposed changes, said Mike Violette, its executive director.

The union plans a rally Monday to highlight what deputies see as a lack of support from officials, Violette said.

The recent scrutiny on the department has made deputies afraid to use force, even when it is necessary for protection, he said.

"The signal is coming loud and clear from the city that you're going to be disciplined," he said. "Everybody perceives this as a serious cultural problem in the department, and that's just not the case."

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