Two Denver police officers mishandled a woman’s call for help during a domestic violence situation two years ago, missed that the woman was seriously injured and left her with her abuser, according to the city’s Civil Service Commission and police disciplinary records.
Officers Brian Finneran and Corey Stuper say they did nothing wrong during the 2021 incident and last week filed an appeal of a Civil Service Commission hearing officer’s ruling upholding the disciplinary case against them. The two officers were both suspended for 10 days for failing to thoroughly investigate the domestic violence report and were also orally reprimanded for failing to turn on their body-worn cameras during the call, according to disciplinary letters obtained by The Denver Post.
The incident began on the night of June 5, 2021, when a woman in the city’s Baker neighborhood called her daughter and whispered to her daughter to call 911, according to the police records. Over a series of calls where the line was left open, the daughter could hear her mother telling her boyfriend not to touch her, or not to hit her, according to the police records.
When officers arrived at the house about 10 minutes after the daughter’s 911 call, the home was dark and quiet, the officers wrote in their appeal. The two officers knocked on the doors of the house and walked around and were getting ready to leave when a man came to the door. The officers thought it “seemed obvious…there was no in-progress domestic dispute,” according to their appeal.The man said he’d had an argument with the woman hours earlier.
The officers nevertheless went inside the home and into a bedroom to check on the woman, who was in bed with the lights out when Finneran stepped into the doorway of the room. Finneran shined his flashlight at the woman briefly. With her boyfriend standing within earshot in the hallway, the woman asked the officer to turn off the flashlight, said she was fine and that the officers should leave. Finneran and Stuper asked a few more questions and then left.
However, the woman had been seriously injured in a violent half-hour assault captured on an in-home camera, further investigation revealed later. After the officers left, the woman’s son took her to a hospital, where medical providers discovered she was bleeding internally. She also had a black eye and was covered in bruises, the woman and her daughter later told police investigators.
The officers were disciplined for failing to separate the man and woman during their three-minute investigation, and for failing to fully investigate the situation. Finneran never turned on the lights in the bedroom and so did not see the woman’s injuries, according to police records.
The officers claim they had no legal right to remain in the home after the woman asked them to leave because everything in the home appeared normal. They also said they could not fully separate the couple because of the layout of the house and were concerned that they would not be able to back each other up if they were separated.
“(The officers) had thus exhausted all means of developing a legal basis to remain in the home,” Finneran’s appeal reads. The officers’ attorney, Sean Lane, did not return a request for comment.
The woman later told investigators she only said she was fine because she was afraid of her boyfriend.
“(The officer) said, ‘Are you okay?’ And I probably said, ‘Yeah,’ because (my boyfriend) was standing right there. Because, he was like, ‘Don’t say anything,’” the woman told an internal affairs investigator.
Margaret Abrams, executive director of the Rose Andom Center, a nonprofit that helps domestic violence survivors, said it is best practice for officers to separate people involved in a domestic dispute in order to be sure the victim can speak honestly with officers and seek help without fear of retribution.
“Even in situations where a victim says, ‘Nope, nothing happened,’ that shouldn’t close the door to continuing to ask other questions or look for other evidence that might be present at a scene,” she said.
The officers filed their first appeal to the Civil Service Commission and are now appealing the commission officer’s decision to uphold the discipline to Denver District Court.
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