Another deputy was punished for the third time this year for mistakes in the records unit
Two Denver Sheriff Department deputies received suspensions last month for using excessive force against inmates — one of them for the second time, according to department documents.
And a deputy in the records unit was suspended for the third time this year for making a careless mistake that could have put public safety in jeopardy, records show.
Deputy Thao Nguyen, who was hired in 2012, was suspended for 15 days after he shoved a handcuffed inmate face first into a wall and smashed the inmate’s face with his forearm and elbow, according to a copy of his disciplinary letter obtained by The Denver Post. An internal investigation also found that Nguyen made misleading statements when reporting his use of force incident, the letter said.
It is Nguyen’s second suspension this year for using excessive force. He was suspended for 10 days in March after he used a Taser to shock the fingers of an inmate who was trying to grab him through a door flap.
In both cases, Nguyen was ordered to take remedial use-of-force training.
Erika Gajarszki Kusa, who was hired in 2008, also recently was suspended for using excessive force. She received a 10-day suspension and was ordered to attend remedial use-of-force training, according to her disciplinary letter.
Gajarszki Kusa grabbed an inmate’s hair, which is not an approved method for controlling inmates. Gajarszki Kusa told internal investigators that she thought the inmate might spit on her or another deputy while they were riding in an elevator, the letter said.
The inmate already was restrained, surrounded by three deputies and facing a wall, the letter said.
In the Nugyen and Gajarszki Kusa cases, internal investigators determined that the inmates were not immediate threats and hands-on actions by the deputies were not required.
Last year, the sheriff’s department revised its use-of-force policy to place an emphasis on de-escalating conflict and avoiding use of force if at all possible. The new use-of-force policy was written as part of an ongoing reform effort, which the community demanded after a series of excessive force cases that left inmates dead or injured and cost the city millions in lawsuits.
In another incident, Gary Shimek, an 11-year employee, allowed a woman to escape the jail by not thoroughly checking her identity while he was on duty in the records management unit.
The inmate had swapped bracelets with her cellmate and pretended to be the other woman when she arrived at Shimek’s station in the release unit, his discipline letter said. Shimek asked the inmate to reveal her name and birth date and checked a photo on the woman’s ID bracelet, but he did not try to validate her identity when the inmate could not answer other questions asked during the release process.
Shimek allowed the woman to leave in the custody of a Colorado State Patrol trooper. She later escaped from the trooper, the letter said. The woman was apprehended and returned to jail.
Internal investigators determined that Shimek failed to serve as the last line of defense to ensure that the right inmate was released, the letter said.
Shimek not only put the community at risk by releasing the wrong inmate, who faced felony charges, but he also created a liability for the department because her cellmate was in custody longer than necessary, the letter said.
Shimek previously was punished twice this year for failing to release inmates on time, leaving them behind bars longer than necessary, records show.
Mistakes in the department’s records unit is an ongoing problem, one that the city has acknowledged could leave it vulnerable to lawsuits.