Criminals with Badges

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“I been forced to write my own laws, and you violated one in there. I just have to find you guilty of contempt of cop.”

~ Bumper Morgan, Joseph Wambaugh’s eponymous Blue Knight, justifying his brutal assault on a young man who had casually insulted him

Jared Lunn, a 21-year-old volunteer firefighter from Brighton, Colorado, visited Denver’s LoDo district to celebrate a friend’s birthday. The evening was quite pleasant until Jared, who was carrying a pizza and minding his own business, was suddenly punched in the face and knocked flat by someone he had never met.

Shortly after the assailant scurried away the police arrived, and Jared’s night took a pronounced turn for the worse.

Perhaps Jared was unaware of the axiom that it is never a good idea to ask the police for help.

Perhaps the fact that he is involved in a “public safety” role led Jared to assume that the police would treat him with courtesy and professionalism. In any case, Jared told Officer Eric Sellers that he had just been assaulted and that he wanted to press charges. Sellers told the victim to go home, and he wasn’t impressed when Jared appealed to him as a fellow “public servant.”

“Way to `protect and serve,’” muttered Jared in disgust as he walked away.

A violent assault on a mere Mundane is a trivial matter — but this was a clear-cut case of “contempt of cop,” and it could not go unpunished.

Sellers seized Jared and threw him to the ground. While screaming a steady stream of profanities at the terrified young man, Sellers beat him and applied a vicious choke hold. After Jared’s body went limp, Sellers wrenched his hands behind his back and handcuffed him with such violence that the victim wouldn’t have full use of his hands for a week.

This felonious assault took place in the presence of two other police officers who, in keeping with the oath-bound discipline of their brotherhood, refused to intervene.

“This guy [Sellers] does this all the time,” one of the bully’s comrades told Chris Fuchs, an eyewitness to the November 23, 2008 assault, after Jared was released. “We don’t know how he gets away with it.” The obvious reply would be: “He gets away with it because of the guilty collaboration of `good cops’ like you.”

Two months later, Sellers became annoyed with a young man named John Crespin, whose behavior struck the officer as “nosy.” Sellers pulled up into the driveway of John’s home and ordered the young man out of the car.

As John complied, his shoulder brushed lightly against Sellers’s arm. Infuriated that a Mundane had defiled his sanctified personage through incidental contact, Sellers inflicted a dose of summary “street justice” as an act of ritual purification.

Just as he did to Jared Lunn, Sellers put John in a chokehold while spitting obscenities in his face. After handcuffing the victim, Sellers used his police baton to lift the young man a couple of feet from the ground, then dropped him face-first into the driveway. The representative of the Denver city government’s punitive priesthood dragged the bloodied man off the pavement, draped him over the hood of his police car, and administered the laying on of hands.

“He started punching me in the sides while I was already handcuffed,” Crespin later told the local NBC affiliate. “I told him to quit, quit, and he wouldn’t quit. He did it one more time and he grabbed my face and said, `Who the f*** do you think you are?’”

After being beaten into a lumpy mess, John Crespin — despite the absence of a criminal history — was charged with “felony menacing.” Terrified and worried about being separated from his newborn child, Crespin accepted a plea bargain agreement that resulted in probation.

Sellers was later found to have used “inappropriate force” against Jared Lunn. The same review found that the officer had compounded that offense through the “commission of a deceptive act” — that is, lying to internal affairs investigators. According to the Denver PD’s existing disciplinary guidelines, this is cause for “presumptive termination.” Yet Sellers continues to draw a paycheck as a member of the police force afflicting Denver.

In fact, Sellers — who, according to his colleagues, commits criminal assaults against innocent people “all the time” — complained in a court filing that the disciplinary action against him was “excessive,” because it specified that another episode of that kind would result in immediate termination.

Denver’s Citizen Oversight Board insists, correctly, that Sellers should have been fired already (and prosecuted as well). The Denver Police Protective Association — that is, local armed tax-feeder union — has Sellers’s back, of course.

This isn’t surprising, given that in September 2008 — just weeks before Sellers assaulted Jared Lunn — the Denver police union distributed t-shirts to its members depicting a baton-wielding riot cop rising ominously about the city’s skyline.

“We get up early, to BEAT the crowds,” gloated the inscription. Each member of the Denver PD received one of the commemorative t-shirts, which were created in anticipation of the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

Sellers apparently perceived that ill-advised pun as a directive and took it to what passes for his heart. Interestingly, Sellers owes his continued employment to a figure who played a critical role in the militarized security preparations for the 2008 convention: Ron Perea, who until recently was Manager of Safety for the City of Denver.

Perea was the Secret Service Special Agent in Charge during the 2008 Democratic National Convention. His previous experience included a stint as head of the Denver Field Office for the Secret Service, a position on the executive board of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in Los Angeles, and five years on the Albuquerque Police Department.

It’s difficult to imagine someone whose career offers a better core sample of contemporary law enforcement at all levels. So it’s quite significant that Perea, as Safety Manager, defined his job in terms of protecting the career prospects of abusive police, rather than protecting the public. As Safety Manager, Perea had the final say regarding complaints of excessive force. His decisions reflected an obvious desire to placate the demands of the police union, rather than holding abusive cops accountable for their offenses.

Perea resigned his post on August 31, barely three months into his $152,000-a-year job, because of rising public disgust over his handling of several recent episodes of criminal violence by the Denver PD. In addition to the leniency he had displayed toward Sellers, Perea refused to discipline Officer Devin Sparks, who severely beat Michael DeHerrera on a LoDo street corner in April 2009.

DeHerrera’s friend, Shawn Johnson, had been ejected from a local club after an altercation with a bouncer. When the police arrived, they “arrested” Johnson so violently that DeHerrera made a frantic phone call to his father, Pueblo County Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony DeHerrera.

“They’re beating up Shawn — what do I do?” a panicked DeHerrera asked his father. This apparently is what provoked Sparks to blind-side Herrera, slamming him to the sidewalk and repeatedly beating him with a leather-shrouded metal club called a “sap.”

This much is captured by one of the Panopticon-style High Activity Location Observation (HALO) cameras scattered throughout that section of Denver. However, just as Sparks lays into Herrera, the camera — which was operated by a Denver PD officer in real time — suddenly pans up and away from the scene.

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