Mar 21, 2022 - News

Denver federal police trial highlights independent monitor's key role

Illustration of a cracked magnifying glass over a police badge.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

An exhaustive report on the racial justice protests in 2020 — and newly released documents that detail the Denver Police Department’s "total leadership failure" — are underscoring the importance of the city’s Office of the Independent Monitor.

  • The claims from top law enforcement officials about the agency's breakdown were revealed in confidential memos written by the office’s two directors and first reported by Axios Denver. The documents drew from interviews the civilian oversight agency conducted for its review of the city’s response to the demonstrations.

Why it matters: The watchdog office has sat vacant for more than a year after former independent monitor Nick Mitchell resigned at the start of 2021 to take a job overseeing reform of Los Angeles County jails.

Driving the news: The Citizen Oversight Board earlier this month tossed out the three finalists in the running to take Mitchell's seat and decided to reopen the search.

  • "None were quite the right fit" nor had the "stakeholder consensus … that we felt needed to hire one of the three candidates," the group wrote in a statement.
  • The board consists of nine appointed community members who oversee how effectively the monitor does the job. Denver's members are picked by the mayor and city council.

The big picture: Mitchell's scathing report detailing Denver police officers' use of force during the George Floyd protests is the foundation in the federal civil rights lawsuit against the city that is now entering its final week at trial.

Of note: The search for Mitchell's replacement marks the first time that the Citizen Oversight Board — not Denver's mayor — has the power to choose who sits in the seat, thanks to a measure approved by Denver voters this past November.

What's next: The Citizen Oversight Board intends to name a new independent monitor by late summer. The plan is to make the next selection process "as collaborative with the community and city stakeholders as the process we just concluded," the group stated.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard. Subscribe here.

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