Denver cops messed with the wrong lady. I’ve known her well for 16 years, and you better know what you’re doing if you slap handcuffs on Susan Greene.
“Act like a lady,” both officers scolded the longtime Denver journalist, practically lifting her by her arms pulled high behind her back in handcuffs. “Stop resisting,” one said ridiculously to the tiny woman being manhandled by two cops, as if her sharp glances toward them could kill.
This is Denver justice, the price you pay for standing down the block with a cellphone trained on a handful of officers standing over a dazed, naked black man on July 5.
Before Susan showed up with her camera, video shows a cop allowing a woman holding the hand of a little girl in a pink shirt with ribbons in her hair to walk past within a few feet of the man. “Just be careful and try to stay away from him,” the officer told her.
They didn’t cuff Susan until she took a picture of officer James Brooks’ badge.
“Here you go, now you can go to jail,” officer Adam Paulsen taunted her then, as they pulled her arms behind her.
That was a bluff. They didn’t take Susan to jail, because they had no legitimate reason. But they took her phone while she waited in the back of a police cruiser. This scene was about intimidation and shielding their badges from scrutiny, not law and order.
Now she’s threatening a lawsuit that could put the cops on the stand and revive the department’s reputation for the way it handles even law-abiding citizens.
“When police arrest anybody, members of the public and certainly members of the press, for investigating and doing their jobs, we are in trouble and democracy is in trouble,” said Greene’s lawyer, Mari Newman of the Killmer, Lane & Newman firm, another veteran combatant against police abuses in Colorado.
Susan was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for “Trashing the Truth,” a 2007 series she co-wrote for the Post about shoddy handling of DNA evidence. Her reporting helped free Tim Masters, improperly convicted in a Fort Collins murder. For 12 years she reported on the egregious mistakes made by cops that led to Clarence Moses-El, who is black, receiving a 48-year prison sentence. He was freed in 2015 for the 1989 accusation.
Susan stood up for Marvin Booker, a homeless street preacher who was manhandled by cops and died in Denver’s jail in 2010. She shined light on the case of Michael Marshall, a homeless black man who died in the hands of Denver cops in 2015.
This time, the cops on Colfax told Susan to move along from a populated public sidewalk using some mumbo jumbo about the HIPAA law. That’s the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which pertains to the release of medical information, mostly paperwork, and says nothing about handcuffed naked people in public view surrounded by cops. It certainly doesn’t negate the First Amendment, a half-baked interpretation officers Brooks and Paulsen tried to press on Susan before putting her in cuffs.
Never mind that if officers were really concerned for the man’s privacy, they could have had him sitting in the back of a police cruiser instead of on the dirty sidewalk on a July afternoon, as traffic stopped for the light in front of the state Capitol just a few feet away. Never mind that the video shows it was a lady nearby on the street who pulled a hand towel from her baby stroller and implored officers to cover up the poor man’s private parts.
But if a journalist is watching cops, things change.
“It is not the police’s right, or the city administration’s right or the mayor’s right, to decide what stories we’re covering or what questions we’re asking, or where we’re pointing our cameras,” Greene said in a news conference. “If they start pushing us this way and we acquiesce, there’s a chilling effect because I didn’t file a lawsuit or pursue changes in the way that police do their jobs, then they’ll keep doing this. It has to stop somewhere.”
That same day, the Denver Police Department put out a statement that it respects the First Amendment and “recently reiterated to officers the relevant policies involving First Amendment considerations.”
Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said she doesn’t have enough resources to pursue charges against the cops. That’s odd. McCann was a state legislator from Denver three years ago when she supported Rep. Joe Salazar’s right-to-record bill, which appears to be meaningless now.
Salazar, who narrowly lost the Democratic nomination for Colorado attorney general this year, had situations exactly like Susan’s in mind when he passed the law with bipartisan support.
“The DA wouldn’t enforce my law,” the tough-as-nails civil rights attorney told me in a text. “Susan has a right to go after law enforcement for interfering with her right to record police activity. The penalty is up to $15,000. From the video recording, it looks like she was about 20-25 feet away from the situation. She was not interfering with police activity. HIPAA doesn’t apply in this situation.
“I also think she should sue them for illegal seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Their pretext for the arrest was absolute garbage. They should be disciplined, up to and including termination, for their sexist, boorish and ridiculously ignorant behavior. Am I surprised that DPD ignored the law I passed? It’s DPD. They never surprise me when they violate the law.”
That $15,000 plus lawyer’s fees the department would have to pay is chump change for a city where taxpayers have covered $14.6 million in judgments and settlements for police violence and misconduct in just three years.
And if a high-profile champion like Susan Greene isn’t safe from cops, then God help the rest of us.