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Denver Sheriff's Deputies Protest Lack Of Support

DENVER (AP/CBS4) - A recent spate of high-profile excessive force cases involving Denver sheriff's deputies became a rallying cry Monday for those accused of using too much force and those who want it to stop.

More than 100 deputies protested outside the downtown jail over what they see as a lack of support from city officials amid the negative attention.

Their voices were muffled at times by a smaller group of counter-demonstrators who shouted "criminals" and other accusations over a loudspeaker while trying to drum up public support.

A union representing the majority of the roughly 730 deputies in the Sheriff's Department held the rally as the department tries to make sweeping reforms amid allegations involving use of force against jail inmates.

One former inmate received a $3.3 million settlement in a jail abuse lawsuit, the largest payout in city history to resolve a civil rights case.

A federal jury is currently hearing a civil case against five Denver deputies accused of causing the 2010 jail death of a homeless street preacher. Other incidents have prompted calls for a federal investigation of the department.

Former Sheriff Gary Wilson stepped down, and interim Sheriff Elias Diggins assured deputies last week they could use force when necessary.

However, the scrutiny has made deputies afraid to do so even for protection, said Mike Jackson, president of the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police lodge that represents Denver deputies.

"One of the big concerns that we have as an organization is that our deputies are afraid to use force when it's necessary, and if that happens you have a situation that develops and could result in further injury to the deputy or to the inmate himself," Michael Violette with the Fraternal Order of Police said.

"The inmates are starting incidents, and the deputies don't want to put their hands on them because they're afraid they're going to be retaliated against" by department leadership, sheriff's Sgt. Charles Denovellis said.

A task force looking to change the way the department disciplines deputies has issued 32 recommendations, including swifter and steeper punishment for deputies who use inappropriate force or lie about it.

"We're used to making split-second decisions," Deputy Michael Britton said. "Now, we're second-guessing the same split-second decisions we've made before."

Jackson told onlookers that inmates were becoming more aggressive. Daelene Mix, a spokeswoman for the city's safety department, said it's studying whether assaults by inmates have increased.

As Jackson spoke, supporters of Marvin Booker, the street preacher, held a banner with his image.

Marvin Booker Protest
Marvin Booker supporters (credit: CBS)

"People tend to deserve the reputations they get," said Jesse Cooper, who was among those holding the sign.

"I can't allow police in this community to continue to get away with all of the horrendous acts they get away with on a daily basis," protester David Strano said.

The Fraternal Order of Police says deputies need more support from the city administration.

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- By Sadie Gurman, AP Writer

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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