Denver police officer Thomas McClay has been removed from his patrol duties, pending the outcome of the Internal Affairs investigation, safety officials say.
Police Chief Paul Pazen launched an internal investigation Monday after becoming aware of a social media post in which McClay allegedly shared a picture of himself and two other Denver officers in riot gear with the caption, “Let’s start a riot,” before the fourth consecutive night of clashes related to the George Floyd protests.
The Instagram account noted in the post and attributed to McClay appears to have been deleted. However the photo he allegedly put up was shared on Reddit late Sunday night and has not been removed.
Police department spokesman Sonny Jackson told Colorado Politics on Tuesday that the investigation remains underway and includes oversight by the Office of the Independent Monitor. McClay has been moved to a "non-line assignment," meaning he won't be on patrol at least until the investigation is complete.
Jackson said on Monday that the police department is taking the matter "very seriously."
Department of Public Safety spokesperson Kelli Christensen told Colorado Politics on Tuesday that, if discipline is recommended, it will come through the safety department.
There are "a number of steps" the investigation will go through first, she said, before any decisions are made.
Two first-term city council members representing downtown Denver were among those calling for an investigation on Tuesday into the police’s handling of the protests, with one soliciting testimonials of excessive force witnessed by participants in the demonstrations.
“As the councilwoman for a district that already has an extremely high police presence, I am seeking answers for how the determination was made to use vehicles and tactics of war against Denver civilians,” said Candi CdeBaca, who represents the central business district and neighborhoods to the north of Colfax Avenue.
She is requesting that the Department of Public Safety and the Office of the Independent Monitor, which oversees the police and sheriff departments, investigate the use of pepper spray, tear gas, and less-than-lethal bullets on demonstrators and rioters. Other items in request include an inventory of military vehicles, an accounting of civilian injuries, and a justification for use of force against identified journalists — of which the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition documented six incidents since Thursday.
Councilman Chris Hinds, whose district includes Capitol Hill, acknowledged that many of his constituents have felt like they live in a “war zone” thanks to repeated nighttime use of tear gas, and that he also would like an investigation.
“Let’s look at those body cameras to see who did what,” he said. “To be clear, this is unprecedented in Denver, and let’s ensure we have accountability now and a plan to make sure it never happens again.”
While condemning vandals and rioters, Hinds warned that “if you are a bad cop, I encourage you to move along before we find who you are and bring justice for our people.”
Hinds called for the creation of a state-level independent monitor to oversee the police, while CdeBaca set up a confidential online survey to collect reports of use of excessive police force, which she said will be used to develop policy reforms.
“I would rather invest some of our tax dollars into addressing the underlying causes for the anger and hopelessness many people feel today due to Denver’s unaffordability crisis, rather than continuing to militarize our police department against the people,” she said.
Councilman Paul Kashmann on Monday called on the Office of the Independent Monitor to evaluate the Denver Police Department’s response to the George Floyd protests and the journalists covering them.
"As Chair of City Council’s Safety Committee,” he told Colorado Politics in an email, “I have asked Safety Department leadership to come before Council in the coming weeks to discuss the use of force in crowd control situations. Reports of excessive use of force and targeting of journalists in recent days are concerning and must be investigated."
It would be “appropriate,” Kashmann said, “for the Office of the Independent Monitor to do a comprehensive evaluation of DPD’s response to the protests to give the public confidence that our oversight role is being taken seriously and to uncover any breaches of service that may have arisen along the way.”
Nicholas Mitchell, Denver's independent monitor, did not respond to Colorado Politics' request for comment.
Chief Pazen marched with demonstrators on Monday, and the department indicated that it will provide details on Wednesday morning about a virtual community meeting Pazen will hold that same evening.