Deputy Thomas Ford of the Denver Sheriff’s Department, who was fired in August 2014 for excessive force after slugging a drunken, foul-mouthed prisoner, will be reinstated to his job, thanks to a decision by the Career Service Board.
In keeping with established policy, Ford’s termination will be revised to a paid suspension. This means, in effect, that the “punishment” for Ford’s act of aggravated assault would be a 14-month paid vacation. Two other deputies involved in the incident, including one who covered up Ford’s act of aggravated assault by refusing to report it, were reinstated by the Career Service Board last month.
An investigation of the incident by Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey resulted in a ruling that Deputy Ford’s attack was “justified” because of profane and provocative language used by the detainee, Kyle Askins, and because he stood up when approached by the enraged deputy. Ford and several others on the scene, including a registered nurse, claimed that Askins – impatiently waiting to be processed at Denver’s Downtown Detention Center – emitted a string of racial slurs, taunts, and supposed threats at the black deputy.
In his account, Ford claimed that he had threatened to take Askins back to his cell if he didn’t desist, and that his purpose in approaching the detainee was to fulfill that promise. Security camera video shows the much larger, armed deputy striding toward Askins, gesturing slightly as the detainee stands to his feet, and then flooring him with an overhand right.
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Askins “popped up off the bench,” Ford related during the inquiry. “I didn’t tell him to get up. I didn’t give him an order. He popped up off the bench in an aggressive manner. His body was tense, and his face, and then, based off his previous threats about what he was going to do to me, I felt threatened and I defended myself with … a strike that we are taught in the Academy to defend ourselves against threats.”
Ford’s ritualistic invocation of the familiar “I feared for my safety” refrain notwithstanding, the video clearly shows that Askins did not assume a “fighting stance” or otherwise display any intent to attack the officer. His hands remain at his sides and he can be seen leaning away from the approaching deputy. The skinny middle-aged drunk was never a credible threat to the bold and valiant Deputy Ford, who – like other deputies on the scene – was clad in body armor and carrying a gun.
DA Morrissey minimizes the seriousness of Ford’s assault by saying that it left no visible injury on Askins. The real offense here, according to the prosecutor, was the use of offensive words by the detainee, who was supposedly “committing the crime of `harassment’ against both deputies by making [foul and racist] comments.”
On this construction, punching an unarmed, non-violent inmate in the face is a less egregious crime than violating a law enforcement officer’s “safe space.” This is what happens with Blue Privilege and political correctness converge. Rather than being practicing adults who are expected to deal professionally with drunk, obnoxious people, law enforcement officers are encouraged to see themselves as precious snowflakes who are easily intimidated by unarmed detainees.
Over the past two years, Denver taxpayers have underwritten millions of dollars in legal settlements arising from abuses at the Downtown Detention Center. In August 2014 – the same month Deputy Ford’s vacation began – the City Council approved a record $3.25 million settlement in a lawsuit filed by Jamal Hunter, who was swarmed and strangled in his cell.
"The resolution of this case marks a new day for our community and for our sheriff’s department," Mayor Michael B. Hancock declared in announcing the settlement. "We are working hard to strengthen protocols and chart a new direction for the department that will restore the public’s trust."
That “new direction,” it appears, would involve dispensing outright with any pretense of accountability on the part of deputies who engage in abusive behavior.