Advertisement
VICE News

Video Shows Denver Police Officer Using 'Inappropriate Force' Against Female Inmate

In the latest controversial incident to emerge involving the Denver Police Department, a 16-year veteran officer has been fired for a violent incident with a female inmate.

by VICE News
Mar 11 2015, 11:50am

Photo via Denver Police Department’s District 2

VICE News is closely watching policing in America. Check out the Officer Involved blog here.

The Denver Police Department has sacked one of its officers for a violent encounter with a female inmate in July 2014 and then failing to report the incident, it emerged on Tuesday.

The department fired James Medina on March 4 for the case involving Seryina Trujillo, who has been accused of resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer. The incident inside a holding cell was caught on surveillance camera. Medina has since hired an attorney, who said that there was "absolutely no basis" for the firing, and the 16-year police veteran is also appealing the decision.

A letter from Denver's Deputy Director of Safety, which ordered that Medina was terminated, described his behavior toward Trujillo as "egregiously disproportionate" and "placed Ms. Trujillo at great risk of serious bodily injury or death."

The incident happened when Medina, along with other police officers and firefighters, were called to a Denver Burger King on July 10 to deal with a "sick and intoxicated" man.

While this man was being taken into custody by Denver Cares, a rehabilitation center, Trujillo and her boyfriend intervened, according to the police report.

The police then handcuffed Trujillo and placed her in the patrol car, where the disciplinary report claims that she spat in Officer Cheryl Smith's face and kicked Medina in the head. Medina responded to Trujillo by punching her in the face, the document states.

The officers took Trujillo to Denver Police Department's District 2 station on charges of assault, resisting arrest, and interference, and she was placed in a holding cell.  

In the subsequent struggle, Medina told Trujillo to remove her belt and shoes and she refused. He then lashed out at Trujillo and forcibly removed her shoes and belt, while holding down her legs and yelling "Don't bite me." During the struggle, the officer put his knee on Trujillo's neck, which led her to allegedly lose consciousness, something that Medina denies.

Related: Video Footage Exonerates Brooklyn Teen of Assault on NYPD Cop

After the incident, the police administration noted that Medina "did not obtain any medical attention" for Trujillo, "report his use of force" or "prepare a Use of Force Report."

It wasn't until four days later when a Denver detective contacted a sergeant to "discuss a case he was investigating" that a supervisor was notified, the report states.

Commander Matt Murray, the department's chief of staff, told CBS4: "There is an expectation that officers act differently than Officer Medina did in this case. This is clearly not consistent with our values and this is not treating people with respect."

Since Medina joined the department in 1999 he was subjected to nine disciplinary actions and received 15 commendations for service.

During the investigation, a division chief at Denver Health Medical Center, Marc Schershel, also examined the video, in which he stated that Medina used "appropriate force and techniques," but said the officer should requested assistance from other officers, rather than approaching Trujillo by himself.

According to Medina's attorney, Donald Sisson, Medina never sought medical attention because he did not believe that Trujillo was injured. Medina told Sisson that Trujillo never passed out during the struggle, emphasizing that she was aggressive and smirking. 

"A few seconds after [the incident] she pops up of her own free will" Sisson told the Denver Post. "There is no inappropriate use of force. All he did was take her down. I don't see how this is a termination case."

"He used less force than he was authorized to use. I think he did everything by the book. In this case the agency, I think, sort of had a knee jerk reaction and Monday morning quarterback and they don't want officers to use force anymore; and unfortunately they have no choice but to use force," Sisson added to CBS4.

This is just the latest controversy involving Denver policemen. Aside from this case, since 2010 the Denver Police Department has fired 20 police officers.