Denver's Office of the Independent Monitor, the watchdog agency of the city’s police and sheriff departments, is still gathering evidence for one of the largest investigations in its history.
Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell told Colorado Politics on Monday night that the investigation into the Denver Police Department’s response to racial justice protests that erupted in late May after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died in custody of white Minneapolis officers, is still ongoing.
Mitchell announced in June that he would be launching an investigation after Denver City Council members urged him to examine the use of tear gas, less-than-lethal bullets and other unwarranted force against peaceful demonstrators and the media.
"You have asked that we evaluate, among other things, the DPD’s use of physical force, chemical agents, riot gear, and surplus military equipment, as well as its handling of community complaints regarding alleged officer misconduct during the demonstrations,” Mitchell wrote at the time. “We accept.”
Mitchell has cautioned that because the protests continued for so long, his small team of investigators would need to review potentially thousands of hours of surveillance footage, police body camera recordings, cell phone video, radio transmissions and testimony from officers and community members.
Investigators will also need to scrutinize thousands of pages of city documents, including operational reports, arrest records, corresponding court documents, records of officers who were called in from outside agencies and more.
“I assure you that our small staff will move expeditiously, and we have already drafted our first request for documents and information, which we will issue to the DPD shortly,” Mitchell wrote in June.
Both Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen and Public Safety Executive Director Murphy Robinson have said they support the investigation.
“We in no way, shape or form are justifying inappropriate actions by our officers, and we will fully hold our team accountable for those actions,” Pazen pledged June 17, when he and Robinson were called in to address DPD's use-of-force policy publicly in front of Denver City Council’s safety committee following protests.
Two weeks earlier, Pazen fired DPD officer Thomas McClay after he posted a photo on social media with two other officers in riot gear and captioned it, "Let's start a riot," on the fourth consecutive day of violent protests in Denver.
That same week, the department also banned all chokeholds, required body cameras for SWAT officers during tactical operations and mandated a use-of-force report when an officer points a firearm at someone.
The Department of Public Safety and the Office of the Independent Monitor are looking into at least 530 complaints of excessive force during protests, according to Robinson. Some are more serious than others, he said, and any disagreements that arise between the two entities around disciplinary action will be left up to Robinson to decide.
At least three federal lawsuits have been filed over law enforcement’s response to protests.