Police Beating Caught on Tape: Denver Men Want Officers Fired
Independent Denver Police Watchdog Says Officers Should Be Fired After Beating, Exaggerated Indicent Report
By CLAYTON SANDELL and SARAH NETTER
Aug. 16, 2010
Beating victim Michael DeHerrera, 24, said he hopes the settlement will set the framework for the firing of the two Denver officers who threw him to the ground and beat him unconscious.
"It wasn't about money," DeHerrera told "Good Morning America," sitting next to his parents. "It was about making a point."
The April 2009 beating started when the two were kicked out of a Denver nightclub after DeHerrera's friend, Shawn Johnson, 25, used the ladies restroom and then got into a scuffle with the club's bouncer.
As Johnson was being arrested and roughed up by police, DeHerrera used his cell phone to call his father, a sheriff's deputy, for advice.
"I didn't know what to do. Because I'm not going to get involved with police," DeHerrera said. "I was frantic. I was yelling into the phone, 'They're beating up Shawn, they're beating up Shawn.'"
But when police officer Devin Sparks saw DeHerrera on the phone, he grabbed him and slammed him on the ground, repeatedly striking him with a metal club.
DeHerrera said he blacked out and doesn't remember anything until he woke up in the hospital with bruises, stitches and broken teeth.
DeHerrera's father, Pueblo County Sheriff's Deputy Anthony DeHerrera, said he heard his son yelling about Johnson being beaten and then heard the phone drop and a string of obscenities, along with what sounded like his son being hit.
"The last thing we heard was, 'We've got to get rid of the phone, they're recording us,'" Anthony DeHerrera said.
Both Sparks and officer Randy Murr declined to comment.
The incident was also caught on tape by Denver's H.A.L.O. camera system, a network of surveillance cameras meant to deter and capture crime.
When DeHerrera's parents found him in the hospital after a round of phone calls ended with Denver police telling them there was no reason to come down, they were floored.
"Nothing could prepare us for what we saw," Denise DeHerrera said, recalling her son's swollen "lopsided" head and numerous stitches. "He was basically covered from head to toe in bruises."
Did Camera Catch Excessive Force? Police Watchdogs Disagree
While the video may seem damning, Ron Perea, Denver's manager of safety, said the video doesn't tell the whole story. The camera, he said, missed Johnson and DeHerrera, both intoxicated, shoving police officers.
"I saw nothing that proved excessive force," Perea said. "When you look at it in its entirety and see what occured, I don't believe the officers acted excessively."
But Denver's independent police watchdog disagrees and said the officers should be fired. Richard Rosenthal, Denver independent monitor, pointed to Sparks' police reported claining that DeHerrera "spun to his left attempting to strike me with a closed right fist." The video, Rosenthal, proves Sparks' report is inaccurate, calling it "pure fiction."
"Writing the report the way it was written, under penalty of perjury, was absolutely inappropriate and should have resulted in the officer's termination," Rosenthal said. "It was clear to me that they were trying to cover up what actually happened and make it look better than it was."
When the video surfaced, charges against both men were dropped.
DeHerrera said he would never hit a police officer.
"I just wouldn't. I have respect for law enforcement, pretty much because of my dad," he said. "And that's not the kind of person I am."
Anthony DeHerrera said the entire incident has shaken his faith in his profession.
"It was very tough for me to put on a uniform after that," he said.