By Dianne Frazee-Walker

Recently, a video was released that reveals relentless brutality in the Denver City jail by correctional officers. The inmate, Mr. Moreno, is mentally-ill, suicidal, and the victim of extreme violence that is unnecessary.

Correctional officers attempt to control Moreno by forcing him to strip down to nothing and placing him in a suicidal garment appropriately named a “turtle suit” that is too small for Moreno. The sardonic purpose of the suit is to protect Moreno from self-harm. Moreno has been evicted of any self-pride or dignity he might have left. He is powerless.     

The 45-minute footage — obtained September of 2013 by The Colorado Independent through an open records request — depicts Moreno sitting on a cold cement bench that doubles as a bed inside an isolation cell not much bigger than a dog kennel. Moreno’s 45-minutes of hell on tape begin with him bewilderedly looking around the cell. Immobilized and stifled from the combination of constricted attire and cramped quarters, Moreno fidgets with his “turtle suit” and mimics a caged animal by pacing back in forth and shifting his body from side to side. His only means for expressing his pent up anger and frustration is to bang his head against the cement cinder-block wall.  

Eight officers assemble outside the cell with a restraint-chair that is supposedly designed to stop Moreno from harming himself. Not knowing what else to do, Moreno resumes hitting his head on the cell wall. After several minutes a correctional officer asks Moreno to stop pounding his head against the wall Moreno’s only possible response to the emotional horror he is going through.  Moreno lets the officer know he doesn’t care about anything and resorts to yelling obscenities.

Foreseeably, Moreno’s comeback is not accepted by the officers. The officers barge into the cell. Two of the officers point taser guns at Moreno, even though he is displaying no signs of threat when the officers enter the cell. The officers tased Moreno with electroshocks until he slumped onto the floor.   

The officer’s method of helping Moreno into the safety fixture is to barge into Moreno’s cell and overcome him by attacking and tasing him. Eight officers successfully strapped one man – of medium build — into the “life-saving” equipment. Once Moreno was “safely” strapped into the device the officers left him alone in his cell.

Now what? Is Moreno safe?

According to The Colorado Independent, an investigation by Denver’s Internal Affairs Bureau determined that Sergeant Ned St. Germain – who has worked in the department since 1983 — broke the city’s use of force policies when he directly ordered the two deputies, Luke Swarr and Frank Romero, to tase Moreno in the Sept. 26, 2013, attack.

The problem is Sergeant St Germain was not in compliance with the use of force policies because even though Moreno did not pose a threat to the officers when they entered the cell, he ordered them to tase Moreno. Anyway, there was no need for eight officers to use excessive force on one incapacitated man.

St. Germain was punished with a 10-day suspension with no pay. However, he is appealing his disciplinary action and is not being held accountable for his misconduct. He claims there was nothing wrong with how Moreno’s chair placement went. His description of the event is “cut and dry and successful because Moreno’s internal anger was a threat to the staff.”       

This is not the only incidence of excessive force on video that occurred at The Denver Jail. There is more footage caught on tape that is being investigated by Internal Affairs.  

Unnecessary brutality and bullying has also occurred in other facilities including Riker’s Island in New York City. 

The reason this out of control problem exists is because correctional staff is not properly trained to handle mentally-ill inmates and correctional facilities are not adequately equipped and staffed to effectively treat problem inmates.

How many other similar incidents have happened that are not on tape and how is this unsurmountable problem going to be resolved?     

For more information on prison guard excessive force http://solitarywatch.com/2014/08/01/videos-show-brutal-treatment-of-prisoners-with-mental-illness/ 

Deputy Sheriffs at the Denver Jail have demonstrated a consistent tendency towards violence, abuse and excessive force.  Choke holds and Tasing appear to be common place.  The Sheriffs Department and the Denver Jail are currently under investigation for abuse and corruption.

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

1 Comment

  1. Jake J. on August 12, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    I suppose what is more depressing is that this isn’t limited to prisons. Mental illness is crazily misunderstood, no pun intended. Considering how many people know someone that is struggling with mental illness it is so strange that no one seems to know how to deal with it in today’s society.



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