Denver Mayor Hancock says external review of jail needed

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Photo: Michael HancockAdditional controversial videos have emerged involving Denver law enforcement officers, and with them, allegations of abuse of power. The number of internal affairs investigations launched at Denver's jail is also rising.

Two videos surfaced last week involving potential abuses, on top of several released earlier. In one of the newly available videos, a sheriff's deputy appears to use a Taser on a man on suicide watch who is seated and doesn’t appear to be threatening anyone. In the other, a sheriff's deputy appears to throw a lunging punch at an inmate leaning on a counter in a common area inside the jail and then tackles the inmate on a concrete floor.

The videos became public as another involving a Denver police officer was receiving tens of thousands of shares on Facebook. That video, posted below, shows a Denver police officer at Coors Field apparently shoving a baseball fan.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock appeared on CPR News' "Colorado Matters" Monday. He said that the Denver Police Department reacted immediately to the video from Coors Field and is investigating whether that officer abused his power.

Overall he said of the videos and other allegations of abuse by Denver police officers and sheriff's deputies, "We are embarrassed." He added, "We will fix it."

At a press conference a week ago Hancock said allegations of misconduct and excessive use of force involving deputies have "shaken the trust" of the public in the work of law enforcement officers, and he announced that Gary Wilson was immediately stepping down as Denver sheriff. Wilson will remain with the department in a different capacity.

Elias Diggins, previously the division chief of the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center in Denver, is serving as interim sheriff as a national search begins for Wilson's permanent replacement.

The jail is mired in complaints against deputies. There are currently has 147 internal affairs investigations open, according to the Denver Sheriff’s Department -- a number that’s risen by 29 percent in the past two weeks.

Hancock said the number of investigations is rising because the department is now looking into every complaint, no matter how seemingly small.

Hancock added that while an internal review to change the culture of the Sheriff's Department is ongoing, an external review should also occur.

"I think it'd be beneficial to get some external eyes," Hancock said.

Tonight Denver’s City Council will consider a $3.3 million payout to settle a lawsuit filed by former inmate Jamal Hunter. Last month a federal judge released video of a sheriff’s deputy grabbing Hunter in 2011, appearing to choke him. Hunter also claims deputies ignored his screams for help as other inmates tortured him, scalding his genitals with hot water.

Another video from 2010 shows deputies allegedly choking and stunning Marvin Booker with a Taser. Booker later died in the hospital.

District Judge John Kane has also called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the Denver Sheriff and Police Departments.

Hancock said the federal government has not contacted his office regarding the matter.