GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. (CBS4) - Greenwood Village is defending a new city resolution to protect its police officers from civil liability. The resolution shields Greenwood Village police officers from personal financial liability under Colorado's new police reform law.
On Thursday afternoon, a couple dozen protesters descended on Greenwood Village, upset about the resolution. Barricades and a snow plow blocked the entrance to City Hall. Protesters gathered around the barricades.
The new state law eliminates qualified immunity as a defense in civil cases. Instead, a police officer can be held liable for up to 5% of the judgement up to $25,000 if the police officer's employer finds that the officer acted in bad faith.
Greenwood Village resolves to never determine that an officer acted in bad faith in a civil case. The city plans to take on all expenses incurred by a civil proceeding or lawsuit brought against an officer under the new law, including court costs, attorney fees, judgements and fines.
"I think it's incredibly unfortunate," said Rep. Meg Froelich, a Democrat representing Englewood, who represents Greenwood Village as part of House District 3. "We passed a heavily stakeholder bill. Worked really hard on it, got all but one republican senator onboard and half of the republican house including the minority leader onboard. Law enforcement people were involved in the whole process. One of the most important parts of the bill was qualified immunity."
"The resolution passed by the Greenwood Village City Council goes against the spirit of the law and the importance of ensuring accountability for wrongful conduct," said Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser in a statement Wednesday to CBS4. "We need to address this action and work to build trust in law enforcement."
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Greenwood Village disputed claims the city is shielding police from accountability:
"As with any inappropriate conduct, we have retained the right to discipline including termination of an officer from his or her position understanding that they will never be able to get a job again in the profession to which many have devoted their lives. They still are subject to criminal liability and jail as a consequence of their actions. However based on our workforce, training and culture that have existed for a long time in our City, we do not believe that the added potential punishment of $25,000 judgment will affect their actions one way or another in those few seconds of crisis when officers have to make split second life or death decisions."
City officials said a senior Greenwood Village police officer has left the force, citing the added risk of financial penalty in addition to the dangers of the job.
"I think the criticisms that greenwood village is operating in a bubble are valid because they clearly weren't hearing the pain of communities of color that we were hearing and the reason why people are in the streets. This is a miss reading of this moment," Froelich said. "It doesn't mean we don't love our police and we don't support our police."
The city claims they enacted a ban on chokeholds before the police reform bill was enacted into law and review every use of force case. The police department provides 300 hours of training each year and has used dash cameras for 20 years.
"We have sworn to protect our citizens from harm from those who would do them ill," the city stated. "It would not be in the public interest to create a system that contributes to the loss of good officers or diminish the ability to attract the best candidates to do a very necessary and dangerous job."
State Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, a sponsor of the police reform bill, said Greenwood Village does not have the authority to apply a blanket indemnification for its officers.
"The intent of the bill now enacted law is that the decision to indemnify is to be individually analyzed based on the specific case or circumstance to determine whether the officer was or was not acting in good faith," said Gonzales-Gutierrez.
Another bill sponsor, Sen. Rhonda Fields, told CBS4 she was disappointed in the resolution.
"The city council is trying to undermine and circumvent the intent of Senate Bill 217 and that is extremely disappointing to me," said Fields.
for more features.