Mike Littwin: Thanks to body-cams we can now see Denver Police story of cops, lies and videotape
Fair and Unbalanced
The clash between Colorado Independent editor Susan Greene and the Denver Police Department has predictably turned into a rout.
The cops could bully, intimidate, handcuff, insult and detain/arrest Greene for simply doing her job but, thanks to the belatedly released police body-cam videos, Officers James Brooks and Adam Paulsen are the ones who have been humiliated. They’ve made themselves and the DPD a national laughingstock while displaying what can only be called a shocking ignorance of the laws they are paid to enforce.
I mean, even for those of us who don’t exactly expect to see Clarence Darrow walking the beat, we would never suppose we’d hear an officer say privacy laws “supersede the First Amendment,” which would have come as a surprise to James Madison and the other founders who wrote the Bill of Rights without once mentioning how to deal with medical records.
And worse still — at least for the police — the DPD seems to have no understanding of the concept of damage control, which now goes all the way to top in the person of recently appointed police chief, Paul Pazen, who just couldn’t bring himself to say the obvious — that he’s got morons on his team.
When asked about the videos by Indy reporter Alex Burness, Pazen predictably said he couldn’t comment because of the ongoing (and if we know the DPD, never-ending) investigation into the facts of the case.
Among the things he couldn’t comment about, though they can be seen clearly on the videos, were the officers’ total disregard for a reporter’s First Amendment rights or the officers’ complete misunderstanding and absurd misuse of privacy laws or in telling Greene to “act like a lady” when they were slapping cuffs on her or how they told her to stop resisting arrest (she clearly wasn’t) when she told the police they were hurting her.
Pazen did say two refresher memos were sent to officers about the First Amendment, which, by the way, definitely allows reporters, and anyone else for that matter, to photograph anything on a public sidewalk. He didn’t mention sending a privacy laws memo, although it’s fair to guess that no Denver cop had ever arrested anyone for a privacy law violation — which involves privacy of medical records — before the comedy team of Brooks and Paulsen showed up on camera.
Not being willing to answer the questions about Greene, Pazen changed the subject, saying the story everyone in the media is missing is about the officers’ assistance for the near-naked man in distress on the sidewalk.
So, reporter Burness, in fairness, asked about the man. Why, if this was a distress call, was the man in handcuffs?
Pazen said it was part of the investigation, so he couldn’t answer.
Burness asked who, in fact, eventually covered the naked man — the cops or a bystander?
Pazen sidestepped in answering that question.
You may see a trend here — Pazen refusing to answer questions about the very story he insists we’re giving insufficient coverage.
So, if he thinks the coverage is imbalanced…
Pazen said he never said the coverage was imbalanced, although he did just say that, but added: “In a situation like this, we should look at the whole picture, not just certain segments that could paint one person in a bad light. … It’s the whole totality of the circumstances we’re talking about — substance abuse, mental health. We should not lose sight of that throughout this process.”
The irony here is that the reason Greene pulled off the street, searched for a parking place, walked back to the scene, starting shooting photos was because there was a naked man surrounded by police. Greene specializes in social justice and criminal justice issues. She was a Pulitzer finalist for her work on these issues. The ACLU just gave her a major award for her coverage of these issues.
Greene started taking photos because she wanted to document the status of the near-naked man in cuffs. And the police meanwhile, left their job caring for the near-naked man in distress to hassle Greene, blocking her from taking pictures with her phone and eventually slapping the phone away.
And you might want to note this: The officers, who claim they were protecting the man’s privacy but couldn’t be bothered to, say, cover him with a jacket or something, didn’t arrest Greene until she started taking photos of one of the officer’s badges.
So, whose privacy were they protecting?
Whose demands for Greene to act like a lady and to stop resisting arrest were part of an improper arrest, based on no law whatsoever? By the way, it’s apparently legal for cops to be ignorant of the law and arrest someone because of that ignorance.
Why did they let Greene go after detaining her for about 10 minutes in a squad car even though they told her she was headed for jail? Here’s a guess: Someone answering the phone at the station said, “What the hell are you guys doing?”
Which officers — you can guess — have not yet been reprimanded in any way (and here’s another guess) will never be?
Look at the videos. It’s all pretty clear. Police have been saying that Greene didn’t identify herself as a reporter. Coincidentally, the audio on the video can’t be heard when they approached her. As a reporter who has been in this situation countless times, I can promise she identified herself. Why wouldn’t she?
For those benighted posters who somehow think women are titillated by the site of a distressed, handcuffed, mostly naked man, they should know Greene is a veteran reporter who has uncovered cases of officers mistreating and even killing black men with mental issues when they were taken into custody. Most of those officers received the lightest of punishment even as the city paid out millions of dollars in settlements.
I don’t know if Greene or the Indy will sue the city. I guarantee she has a case. What I hope is that the officers heard what she said at a news conference with her and the Indy’s lawyers Wednesday. “It’s our job to not take no for an answer when ‘no’ is illegal,” she said. “I don’t think we should stop taking photos when we are told unlawfully to do so.”
I wonder if Police Chief Pazen has any comment on that.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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