A Denver sheriff’s deputy has been fired after a review of an incident from last year ruled he used excessive force on an inmate.
Darrin Turner, a 15-year veteran of the Denver Sheriff Department, was terminated on Jan. 4, according to a discipline letter sent to him last month.
“Deputy Turner’s egregious misconduct, willful disregard of department rules, and unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions is unacceptable,” Denver sheriff’s spokeswoman Daelene Mix told The Washington Post on Tuesday. “Based on the facts and circumstances of the case, termination was appropriate.”
In the 18-page letter, which includes reports from disciplinary hearings about the case, the department stated that Turner had unnecessarily escalated an argument with an inmate only identified as “DR.”
“First and foremost, Deputy Turner instigated and escalated the situation by unnecessarily making physical contact with inmate DR while escorting him in the hallway, as well as when he elbowed inmate DR in the back,” the letter stated.
The Denver Department of Public Safety on Monday released surveillance videos of the encounter, which took place on Jan. 28, 2016.
Part of the footage showed Turner pinning the inmate onto a metal table by his neck and appearing to choke him with his left hand; at one point, his right hand strikes the inmate’s face. The inmate, in red jail scrubs, is visibly distressed. Eventually, Turner’s hands withdraw and another law enforcement officer restrains the inmate.
Turner has maintained he was provoked by the inmate, who he said repeatedly called him racial slurs and threatened him.
“The reason I did it, Chief, the … inmate was saying that he was going to f— me up,” Turner said in a discipline meeting last December, according to the documents. Turner said he was leading the inmate to another room “to counsel the inmate that we don’t use that language” after he called the deputy the n-word.
The inmate allegedly kept calling Turner the n-word as he was being led down a hall, Turner told the discipline committee.
“It appeared to me that he had his hands in front of him and balled up in a fist,” Turner said, according to the report. “I felt as though he was going to do something when I took him to the back to counsel him. So for my safety, I gave my glasses to Officer Gardner for my protection for my eyes and my face.”
In the report, the department said that Turner at first did not report removing his glasses, an action that they said clearly indicated Turner was anticipating a fight. Denver 7 News stitched together multiple clips from the surveillance cameras; in the longer video sequence, Turner can be seen growing perturbed, handing his glasses to another officer and then attacking the inmate. From a different angle, the news station reported, another deputy can be seen pulling Turner away.
“If Deputy Turner had the time and presence of mind to remove his glasses and ensure their safety, he also had time and circumstances that permitted him to consider other options than entering an enclosed area of the facility with a provoked inmate for no legitimate reason,” the report stated.
“At this point, the inmate’s threat level was none — he was walking in front of Deputy Turner with his hand in his waistband. There were other options available to Deputy Turner that did not require using the level of force (or any, for that matter) that Deputy Turner employed.”
Turner plans to appeal the termination, according to KDVR News. The report showed that Turner asked the panel to speak to colleagues who could testify to his character and credibility, and that he was “not the person that [he was] depicted to be.”
The report showed that Turner’s discipline history at the department had included three verbal reprimands and two written reprimands. In 2012, Turner was suspended for 13 days for “conduct prohibited by law” and “conduct prejudicial.”
There is no single, universally agreed-upon definition of “use of force,” and every situation — as well as responding officer — is different, according to the National Institute of Justice, a Justice Department agency that researches criminal justice issues. Because of that, “situational awareness is essential,” the agency says on its website.
“An officer’s goal is to regain control as soon as possible while protecting the community,” the agency says. “Use of force is an officer’s last option — a necessary course of action to restore safety in a community when other practices are ineffective.”
Last month, a group of 11 national police organizations added “de-escalation” to a new model policy on use of force.
The Denver Sheriff Department rewrote its policy on use of force last June to require deputies use “verbal judo” to de-escalate conflicts and use the least amount of force necessary, the Denver Post reported. The changes were part of a massive overhaul of the department after an independent report outlined in 2015 scores of deep-seated problems there, from a “leadership deficit” to “use-of-force culture [that] must change,” the newspaper reported that year.
Turner’s disciplinary report touched on many of the department’s new guidelines.
“Physical force will not be used as punishment, under any circumstances,” the report stated. “Deputies hold a position of trust … They are given enormous discretion in carrying out their duties — discretion which also carries tremendous responsibility, especially as it pertains to the authority to use force.”