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Top Denver Sheriff Commanders Demoted For Preferential Treatment

By Brian Maass

DENVER (CBS4)- CBS4 has learned that former Denver Sheriff Gary Wilson has been demoted to the rank of Captain, and his sister, Phazaria Koonce, has been demoted from Captain to the rank of Sergeant after the Safety Department determined the two provided preferential treatment to the granddaughter of former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb.

In blistering disciplinary letters obtained by CBS4, Wilson's behavior was called "borderline reckless" and his sister was called out for demonstrating "very poor judgment."

gary wilson
Former Sheriff Gary Wilson (credit: CBS)

The harsh disciplines- handed down Thursday- follow an incident last September at the downtown Denver detention facility. Jamie Webb, the granddaughter of former Mayor Wellington Webb and the niece of Manager of Safety Stephanie O'Malley, turned herself in at the jail on an outstanding warrant.

Jamie Webb (credit: Denver Sheriffs Department)

But in more than 60 pages of detail, investigators indicate that Wilson – who was a Division Chief at the time- and Koonce, attempted to have Webb rushed through the booking process , appear in court and released from jail much faster than other inmates. It was only when some of their subordinates blew the whistle that the preferential treatment came to a halt, according to the letters obtained by CBS4.

A jail sergeant said it would normally be a two to three day process for Webb but Koonce asked him, "So let's try and get her in court before then … could I kind of expedite the process."

Phazaria Koonce
Phazaria Koonce (credit: CBS)

Investigators say Webb was "processed in an irregular manner" and multiple deputies complained "Jamie Webb had been afforded preferential treatment'"

The investigation revealed that Wilson was contacted by Alvertis Simmons, a Webb family friend who exchanged numerous phone calls and text messages with Wilson before Webb turned herself in, accompanied by Simmons, on Sept. 8, 2016. Simmons called Wilson from the jail lobby and Wilson acknowledged then contacting his sister, Koonce to "make her aware" that the former Mayor's granddaughter was turning herself in. Koonce then went to the jail lobby and inserted herself in the process, escorting Webb into secure areas without Webb being properly searched, put through metal detectors, or handcuffed as is standard protocol.

A sergeant acting on Koonce's orders pressed other subordinates for Webb's case to be dealt with first.

Denver Jail
Denver Jail (credit: CBS)

An agent who was involved in the process told investigators "it was taken out of sequence… and done before the others... because of who she was."

According to the investigation, "All interviewed deputies ... indicated that this course of action was improper."

A sergeant acting on Koonce's orders told Deputy Jerry Vigil, "She is Mayor Webb's granddaughter and she needs to be rushed through the process."

Wellington Webb
Wellington Webb, former mayor of Denver, speaks during the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, July 25, 2016. (credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

But according to the investigation, Vigil refused, "I informed Sgt. Givens we don't do that anymore… and I was like, "That's an unlawful order sergeant."

Another deputy who was interviewed concurred that Webb "was to be expedited through the process because of her relation to the former mayor," and that "she was moved to the top of the list in front of all the other inmates."

The deputy said he "didn't feel this was appropriate."

Denver Jail generic
(credit: CBS)

Another deputy, Abelino Solano, an 18-year veteran, reported the preferential treatment immediately to internal affairs, even though he feared he might be subject to retaliation.

"I'll take responsibility," said Solano who felt the way Webb was treated was a "safety compromise."

When questioned, Koonce told investigators, "You know, at the end of the day, I had a coworker ask me if I could help with this, and I didn't think that there was a reason why I couldn't. I just didn't think it was preferential treatment trying to get somebody in to court... I just honestly didn't see the harm."

Denver's manager of safety stephanie O'Malley
Denver's Manager of Safety Stephanie O'Malley (credit: CBS)

For his part, Wilson said, "I felt like I did what I was supposed to do."

He contends he would have done the same thing for any other citizen who had his phone number.

But administrator Shannon Elwell of the Department of Safety, who ruled on the case, wrote Wilson's explanation "strains the bounds of credulity to believe that a busy, high ranking division chief would exchange 12 phone calls totaling 33 minutes, and texts, with a similarly situated inmate or her representative over the course of seven days."

Denver Jail
Denver County Jail (credit: CBS)

Wilsons statements to internal affairs, wrote Elwell, "Contradict one another and are nonsensical, given the totality of the circumstances. The ensuing preferential treatment that inmate Jamie Webb received was directly attributable to Chief Wilson's behavior and his lack of concern for the careers of subordinates that he jeopardized in furtherance of his political and personal agenda."

Elwell said that both Wilson and Koonce brought disrepute to the department and compromised the department's integrity. She wrote that Wilson displayed "disappointing and cavalier behavior indicates that he believes he is untouchable and that his rank has its privileges."

(credit: CBS)

Elwell used similar language to describe Koonce's actions.

Nathan Chambers, an attorney representing Wilson, told CBS4, "We disagree with the discipline. We will appeal and will vigorously defend Chief Wilson's conduct and reputation."

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

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