You would think that after the settlement of a lawsuit for jail abuses that resulted in a $3.25 million dollar settlement this week, the Denver Sheriff’s Office would be more forthcoming with their policies and procedures. If the abuses were worth $3.25 million, shouldn’t the public be allowed to review those procedures? Since no procedures for either the Denver Sheriff or the Denver County Jail are available online, I filed an Open Records request.
The Denver Sheriff’s Office kindly told me today that if I wanted a copy of the county jail’s policy’s and procedures they would have to send me an estimate because the bill would be so large. Apparently, no one has ever asked for the Denver County Jail’s operating procedures before, so no public version exists to give me. The kind lady from the Sheriff’s Office told me she would have to go “line-by-line” to ensure only public information would be included. She said she would charge me $30 per hour for her time. She cautioned me the bill could be very large because of the all the hours it would take to make it publicly accessible.
Before, I get into why her bill is ridiculous, let me first publicly note that as of this blog post the Denver Sheriff does not have any policies written about the Colorado Records Act (CORA) whatsoever. I went to the Denver Sheriff website and there is not even a contact person listed for CORA. In fact the Denver Sheriff doesn’t even have a correct non-emergency phone number listed on its homepage (see below). I even searched the entire Denver.gov website and did not receive any help. The kind lady still insisted that she would send me an estimate because it wasn’t her fault that the CORA procedures are not posted on the Denver Sheriff’s website — she does not update the website.
Legislators and courts have grappled with the problem of how to hold police accountable for when rights of citizens are knowingly deprived. In other areas of law it is easy to hold actors accountable directly for their actions. Rightly or wrongly, it is almost impossible to hold a police officer directly accountable with a civil rights lawsuit.
A very interesting article sheds some light on this issue. Working through Open Records requests the author empirically looks at the issue of police officer’s being financially responsible for settlements and judgments in police misconduct cases.
This Article empirically examines an issue central to judicial and scholarly debate about civil rights damages actions: whether law enforcement officials are financially responsible for settlements and judgments in police misconduct cases. The Supreme Court has long assumed that law enforcement officers must personally satisfy settlements and judgments, and has limited individual and government liability in civil rights damages actions—through qualified immunity doctrine, municipal liability standards, and limitations on punitive damages—based in part on this assumption. Scholars disagree about the prevalence of indemnification: Some believe officers almost always satisfy settlements and judgments against them, and others contend indemnification is not a certainty. In this Article, I report the findings of a national study of police indemnification. Through public records requests, interviews, and other sources, I have collected information about indemnification practices in forty-four of the largest law enforcement agencies across the country, and in thirty-seven small and mid-sized agencies. My study reveals that police officers are virtually always indemnified: During the study period, governments paid approximately 99.98% of the dollars that plaintiffs recovered in lawsuits alleging civil rights violations by law enforcement. Law enforcement officers in my study never satisfied a punitive damages award entered against them and almost never contributed anything to settlements or judgments—even when indemnification was prohibited by law or policy, and even when officers were disciplined, terminated, or prosecuted for their conduct. After describing my findings, this Article considers the implications of widespread indemnification for qualified immunity, municipal liability, and punitive damages doctrines; civil rights litigation practice; and the deterrence and compensation goals of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.