Watch CBS News

Denver Cops Cry Foul Over 'N' Word Discipline

Editor's Note: This story contains the "N" word. We included the offensive word because the story revolves around what a police officer said and how and why he said it. To be fair to the officer, we felt the reader needed to be able to know exactly what he said.

DENVER (CBS4) - A Denver police officer has been disciplined for uttering the "N" word during a confrontation with a citizen, but fellow officers -- several of them African American -- say the context was not offensive, the discipline unwarranted, and that the case shows how DPD officers are not supported by their administration.

"This is political correctness gone awry," said Detective Victoria Oliver, an African American DPD officer who also sits on the board of the Denver police union, the Police Protective Association.

Oliver made her comments after viewing videotape CBS4 obtained of the incident which occurred Oct. 18, 2014 during the Zombie Crawl event in downtown Denver.

Officer Adam Paulsen, who is white, was called in to assist with the event after fights broke out and the crowd became unruly. Paulsen was wearing a police-issued body camera, which Denver police officers began employing in 2014. His camera recorded video and audio of what happened and CBS4 obtained the officer's tape.

At one point Paulsen is approached by a young man who is attempting to walk through an area officers were trying to keep clear.

Police Body Camera Video
(credit: CBS)

The man, who appears to be African American, said to Paulsen, "Nigger, I'm trying to get through." Paulsen responded, "I am not a nigger, walk around to your family." The man then said, "I'm trying to get through homie." Paulsen responds, "I'm not your homie either, just walk around." The man then proceeds to follow the officer's orders.

The man never filed an official complaint about the exchange. However, when DPD administrators were reviewing body camera tapes from that night they discovered the exchange and issued Paulsen a written reprimand Jan. 28 for being discourteous.

According to the reprimand obtained by CBS4, "While Officer Paulsen did not call anyone the 'N' word, the use of the word could have caused a bad situation to become worse. The 'N' word is highly offensive to the majority of people."

The reprimand goes on to say that "There is a preponderance of the evidence indicating Officer Paulsen was discourteous in his statements; therefore a violation ... is sustained."

Cmdr. Matt Murray told CBS4, "That word is offensive, that word draws emotion out of a lot of people. That's not a word we want to hear bandied about. It's not professional. The word is inappropriate. We have a professional standard and that behavior does not meet that professional standard."

Murray said Paulsen is paying a "small penalty" for his use of the word and the discipline is part of building professionalism among DPD officers.

But Oliver called the discipline unwarranted.

"I see nothing wrong with it," she told CBS4. "He was responding to a statement that was made to him. As an African American female I have no issue or problem in the context he used it in. This has nothing to do with racism -- he responded to a word."

Oliver said other black officers are appalled and flabbergasted at the discipline.

"He didn't do anything inappropriate. We are out here to serve and protect the community but we are not here to be disrespected."

Oliver said the incident uncovered by CBS4 was "unfair" to the officer and shows DPD administrators are not supporting patrol officers and are "going after cops for everything."

Paulsen was one of a dozen officers at the Zombie Crawl wearing body cameras. According to police accounts, those cameras helped show officers acted appropriately that night after citizens accused them of excessive force and unprofessional behavior.

"This is exactly why Chief White endorses body cameras," said Murray. "It supports cops when they say it didn't happen, but it also clearly highlights behavior we can take action on on the part of officers. It cuts out ambiguity and shows what happened."

RELATED STORIES: More Body Cameras Stories

Murray said it is the first time the Denver Police Department has released any of its body camera footage.

"This is a great video to satisfy both sides of the debate in the need for body cams," said Murray.

Officer Paulsen did not respond to an inquiry from CBS4 about what happened. He is not allowed to appeal his written reprimand.

CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass has been with the station more than 30 years uncovering waste, fraud and corruption. Follow him on Twitter @Briancbs4.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.