The Department of Public Safety has imposed suspensions on two Denver police officers for their use of force during last summer’s protests of police violence against people of color, disciplinary orders from late April show.
Officer Diego Archuleta received a six-day suspension for violating the department’s policy against inappropriate force on May 31 when he pepper-sprayed a woman stuck in traffic who had criticized officers for “firing [less-lethal munitions] on an unarmed crowd.” According to Archuleta’s use of force report, referenced in the disciplinary order, the woman said “What, they gonna kill this guy?” and Archuleta wrote he heard her say something about “killing.”
The woman immediately rolled up her window and lowered her head to look at her phone, Archuleta reported, and he realized he had made a mistake and walked away. He said he did not think she was harmed by the pepper spray.
Chief Deputy Director of Safety Mary Dulacki wrote in the disciplinary order the presumptive penalty is a 10-day suspension, but she chose to impose six days because Archuleta was under stress from working more than 14 hours two days in a row responding to the protests and because he admitted he made a mistake.
“By directing his OC fogger on the windshield of an occupied car when the driver was not part of the riotous crowd, was posing no threat to police, and was only voicing verbal commands at officers, Officer Archuleta’s misconduct substantially interfered with the Department’s professional image,” Dulacki wrote in the disciplinary order. “Furthermore, not only did Officer Archuleta’s misconduct involve a demonstrable serious risk to the driver of the vehicle, but potentially also to nearby pedestrians and other officers, whose safety may have been jeopardized by a driver with compromised vision.”
Archuleta described his use of the pepper spray as reactive rather than punitive, and told investigators “I don’t want this to paint a picture of an officer I shouldn’t’ve [sic] been that day. Y’know, I’m better than that, and I just apologize.”
Archuleta will serve his suspension at the end of May, according to the disciplinary order.
Officer Derek Streeter received a 10-day suspension for three incidents of firing pepperball rounds on people near Broadway and 14th Avenue who did not pose threats.
According to the disciplinary order, a passenger leaned partway out of the window of a car moving away from officers and shouted obscenities at officers. Streeter’s pepperball gun initially malfunctioned, and when he cleared the issue he fired three rounds, according to the disciplinary order.
The same night, Streeter also fired rounds near a woman who yelled obscenities as she ran away from the area, and shot a round near a man who asked where he should walk as he left the area.
In each instance, Streeter claimed he feared the people were about throw things at officers. In the disciplinary order, Dulacki acknowledged Streeter and fellow officers had already been hit and injured by projectiles, including Streeter getting hit in the shin with a brick. But she wrote Streeter’s explanation for firing the rounds was not plausible.
“Officer Streeter failed to discriminate between individuals participating in illegal activity and those simply verbalizing discontent with police,” Dulacki wrote. “By inappropriately firing PepperBall at protesters when the force was not warranted, Officer Streeter’s misconduct substantially interfered with the professional image of the Department.”
Streeter is scheduled to serve his suspension over two weeks in June and July. Both Streeter and Archuleta have 10 days to appeal their discipline with the Civil Service Commission if they choose.
Denver’s Office of the Independent Monitor issued a report in December criticizing the Denver Police Department’s response to protests last May and June prompted by George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, detailing ways officers acted sometimes dangerously and anonymously with their use of force in the early days of the demonstrations.
Independent monitor Nick Mitchell stepped down in January. A committee appointed to choose nominees for his replacement will have its first meeting Thursday, chair Al Gardner confirmed to the Denver Gazette. He said the committee plans to share some updates about the process so far and the search firm chosen at the next Citizen Oversight Board meeting.
“There’s a push to move on it, but we have to get this right,” Gardner said, adding there has not been a hiring process for the position since Mitchell took over as monitor several years ago and the committee has paid attention to making sure the process goes as well as possible.