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Denver Sheriff’s Office Mishandles Prisoners’ Grievances

Denver’s Office of Independent Monitor (OIM) filed a six chapter report critiquing procedures within the Denver Police Department (DPD) and the Denver Sheriff’s Department (DSD). Chapter two of the report detailed deficiencies in the manner in which the DSD handled prisoners’ most serious grievances. Chapter two also comprised nearly half of the entire report.

The OIM analyzed more than 6,000 prisoners’ grievances filed over the two and half year period of January 1, 2011 through June 30, 2013. Their focus was on grievances that alleged serious misconduct by guards including excessive use of force, sexual misconduct, and biased or prejudicial behavior.               Both public policy and DSD directives dictate that serious misconduct committed by guards is to be reported to and investigated by the Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB). The OIM found that over 90% of the most serious grievances never made it to the IAB for investigation.

Of the 54 grievances alleging serious misconduct by guards only nine were actually investigated by the IAB and of the nine only three were actually triggered by the original grievance. The other six were only investigated after the prisoner filed a separate complaint.     

Another problem identified by the OIM is that the DSD's grievance forms are not offered in Spanish even though a significant amount of the jail population only speaks Spanish.  They also expressed concern with the DSD policy requiring a verbal resolution be attempted before a prisoner can file a written grievance. According to the report both of these limitations have the effect of discouraging prisoners from using the grievance process.

The investigation revealed that the Inmate Handbook did not inform prisoners that an informal resolution was not required if their grievance alleges serious misconduct by a guard. The OIM also suggested that the DSD revise its policy of rejecting grievances for procedural errors when a guard is accused of serious misconduct.

Interviews with employees revealed that guards consistently failed to file reports of serious misconduct with the IAB. When asked for a reason guards referred to a memo, issued from an unknown source, that required them to first go to their supervisor.  The OIM was never able to locate the memo.

All total the OIM listed eleven recommendations for improvement by the DSD. Those suggestions included informing guards that they are permitted to report serious misconduct directly to the IAB without fear of retaliation. They recommended that the DSD develop a centralized, electronic database for storing prisoners’ grievances and that the OIM have live, contemporaneous access to that database.

But possibly the most glaring concern expressed by the OIM was the DSD’s failure to analyze the data supplied by the grievances themselves. Of the 788 guards employed by the DSD 16% of the grievances alleging serious misconduct were filed against just four guards. In their report the OIM recommended that “…the DSD produce routine analytical reports on patterns and trends in grievances for DSD command staff” in an effort to identify problematic areas.


Sources: The Office of the Independent Monitor: Semiannual Report 20139News

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