State officials on Thursday criticized the Greenwood Village City Council's decision to shield police officers who act in bad faith, but any action to negate that decision would likely come from the General Assembly in its next session rather than the Attorney General.
The council on Monday adopted a resolution, proposed by Councilmember Dave Kerber, that said they will not follow a portion of the police accountability law passed by the legislature in June and signed by Gov. Jared Polis on June 19.
Both of Greenwood Village’s legislators — Sen. Jeff Bridges and Rep. Meg Froelich, a former member of the Greenwood Village City Council — voted for the measure.
The bill states that employers would indemnify its peace officers for liability and judgments, but if the peace officer did not act in good faith or acted unlawfully, the officer would be held personally liable for up to $25,000 or 5% of the judgment, whichever is less.
Greenwood Village’s resolution states that the council wants to show its continued support for its police department by indemnifying its officers against any expenses, judgments and settlements that could arise under an action tied to the new law.
That hasn’t gone over well with state lawmakers, the attorney general and leaders of the Black Lives Matter protests.
Democratic Rep. Emily Sirota of Denver called it a “disturbing move by Greenwood Village City Council to subvert a major component of our Police Accountability & Integrity Act just weeks after it was signed into law.”
Attorney General Phil Weiser said in a tweet Wednesday that the council’s decision was “wrong. We can’t let it stand.”
This is wrong. We can't let this stand. https://t.co/hBJKSkETAm— Phil Weiser (@pweiser) July 9, 2020
But he was more measured on his views Thursday, preferring to punt the issue to the General Assembly.
In a statement to Colorado Politics, Weiser said that if local governments “pass resolutions to place a blanket shield for their law enforcement officers, regardless of whether they act in bad faith, they are going against the spirit of SB20-217 and its goal of accountability for wrongful conduct.
“I encourage local governments to implement this law as envisioned and find appropriate ways to demonstrate their support and appreciation for responsible law enforcement officers. If they decline to do so, I expect the legislature will take action in January to address this issue.”
State Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat, told Colorado Politics on Thursday that she is already discussing a bill for 2021 with the American Civil Liberties Union that could put to an end efforts to ignore the law.
“I think there’s been a difference of opinion about whether Greenwood Village is following the law,” she said. If the law needs to be clarified, “to give the attorney general the authority [to act], we will do that,” she said.
“We need to do more” to hold cities and towns accountable, Herod added, especially those that might shield officers who act in bad faith from accountability. “They are peace officers and should be responsible to the public.”
Other leaders of the Black Lives Matter protests, including Denver Public Schools board member Tay Anderson, are talking recalls.
Tweets from Anderson and Indivisible Denver pointed out that elections for city council members traditionally draw low turnout, and that could be an opportunity for a recall.
All the city council members are up for re-election in 2021, and that’s been talked about on social media as another opportunity.
Froelich, the state rep and former council member, is advocating for those who oppose the council’s decision to show up at the council’s next meeting, which is scheduled for August 3.
But protesters aren’t waiting that long. They plan to show up at 4 p.m. Thursday at city government headquarters.
Froelich told Colorado Politics Thursday that the city council "misread the moment." The immunity portion of the bill was among its most significant, and heavily negotiated, she pointed out. Qualified immunity, according Froelich, is detrimental to police reform. "it's a challenge to police officers since it holds them to the concept of good faith or bad faith. You’re only held personally liable if you act in bad faith. That’s the job of the city council to determine."
It was "unnecessary for them to make this bold statement that no one" in the Greenwood Village police department will ever be found to act in bad faith, Froelich said. The police do a good job, use best practices and engage in community policing. But it's clear "that they have little contact with people of color."
Froelich asked if the council really wants to make the focus of protesters, "who are expressing genuine pain, shifted to Greenwood Village. Is that what you want for your community?"
A statement from Senate Democrats on Thursday also condemned the action.
"We are incredibly disappointed by Greenwood Village's decision to try and undermine our recently passed legislation to improve law enforcement integrity. For years police officer immunity has robbed victims and their families of justice and paved the way for the unfettered use of excessive force. Those that are sworn to uphold the law and protect the community should be held accountable when they blatantly abuse someone's constitutional rights. By attempting to reinstate this arcane legal doctrine, they are sending the message that officers can violate people's rights without consequence."
Gov. Jared Polis also weighed in on Thursday. "Bipartisan police reform is the law of Colorado," he said. The law "was designed to restore trust between communities and law enforcement...I'm confident communities across the state will follow it."
Just last week, Greenwood Village's police department was let off the hook by the U.S. Supreme Court over the destruction of a Greenwood Village home by its SWAT officers. In June 2015, SWAT officers destroyed the home of Leo Lech in an effort to chase down an armed shoplifter who broke into the Lech’s home at random. The shoplifter, Robert Seacat, barricaded himself in the Lech’s home, which led to a 19-hour standoff. Eventually, the SWAT officers drove an wheeled armored personnel carrier into the home and arrested Seacat. The home suffered extensive damage, was condemned by the city, razed and then rebuilt. The city offered the Lech’s $5,000 for temporary housing and to cover the insurance deductible. The home’s value was estimated at $450,000.
The Lech’s sued Greenwood Village and the police department in federal court, and lost, and took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied their request on June 29.