Video: Denver deputy fired for slamming handcuffed man into courthouse floor

"I feel that I handled it the exact way that I was taught to handle situations like this," the officer said; city officials disagreed

By Elise Schmelzer
The Denver Post
DENVER — A Denver sheriff's deputy connected with the high-profile 2015 jail death of Michael Marshall was fired this month for slamming a handcuffed man facedown into the floor of the city's courthouse earlier this year.

Department of Public Safety officials fired Bret Garegnani on Oct. 7 in connection with the March 8 incident in the courthouse. Garegnani failed to try to de-escalate the situation or use less-forceful tactics and instead engaged in "serious and abusive conduct," city officials found.

Garegnani never acknowledged he acted inappropriately during the seven-month disciplinary process, according to disciplinary documents obtained by The Denver Post through a public records request.

"It is remarkable that (the handcuffed man) was not seriously injured as a result of this incident," Denver Public Safety Chief Deputy Director Mary Dulacki wrote in Garegnani's disciplinary letter. "However, the risk of death or significant injury cannot be understated, particularly in circumstances such as here, where an inmate who was handcuffed behind his back, was taken to the ground face-first, and piled on top of by a 350-pound deputy."

Dulacki noted that Garegnani "should be keenly aware of the potential risks affiliated with uses of force" because of his involvement with the 2015 death of Marshall, who died nine days after asphyxiating on his vomit during a Nov. 11, 2015, struggle with Garegnani and other deputies in the Downtown Detention Center.

Marshall was in jail on a $100 bond for disturbing the peace and trespassing and was experiencing a psychotic episode when deputies piled on him in an attempt to restrain him after he tried to walk out of a room.

Public safety leaders tried to suspend Garegnani for 16 days for continuing to press on Marshall's upper body even after nurses asked him to stop. Garegnani successfully appealed the discipline and it was overturned by the Career Service Authority. No deputies were disciplined or criminally charged in connection with Marshall's death, though the city paid a $4.6 million settlement to Marshall's family.

The March courthouse incident began when Garegnani was called to courtroom 4G to take a man into custody, according to Garegnani's disciplinary letter. The man, who is identified in the documents only by his initials, tried to walk out of the courtroom when he was remanded to jail. But Garegnani stopped him and walked him to the door inside the courtroom that leads to the rooms deputies use to hold people during court hearings.

The man continued to yell while he was handcuffed and led into a small corridor between the courtroom and the jail area. Video of the incident shows the handcuffed man walk into the corridor, which has doors at both ends, and turn sharply toward Garegnani and another deputy following behind him. Garegnani pushed the man against the wall, then picked him up by the back of the jacket and his legs and threw him face-first to the ground.

The two deputies pinned the man to the ground facedown for 2.5 minutes before rolling him to his side, the video shows. The handcuffed man was transported from the room in a wheelchair because he said he could not walk. The man did not suffer any serious injuries.

Garegnani reported that he used force on the man because the man "suddenly and aggressively turned toward me and started walking aggressively toward me" and appeared to try to escape again.

"I then take control of (the man) and controlled him to the ground," Garegnani wrote in his initial report, describing his actions.

Garegnani estimated the man was approximately 5-feet-8-inches tall and weighed 130 pounds and said he is 6-feet-6-inches tall and weighed about 350 pounds. Deputies had not yet searched the man for weapons, Garegnani said.

After watching the video later, Garegnani told investigators he still believed the takedown was the correct action. Garegnani joined the sheriff's department in 2008.

"I feel that I handled it the exact way that I was taught to handle situations like this," Garegnani told investigators, according to the letter.

Dulacki disagreed. She found that Garegnani should've instead tried to de-escalate the situation by talking to the man, or called for additional assistance. There was minimal risk the man could escape from the small room because his hands were restrained behind his back and there were two deputies next to him.

Dulacki said Garegnani's decision to forcibly hold the man on the ground for minutes after the takedown was questionable at best.

"Deputy Garegnani failed to make a reasonable decision based on common sense and good judgment when he needlessly performed a takedown of (the man), while he was handcuffed behind his back, that could have caused a vital area of his body (his head) to impact the ground," the letter states.

Garegnani's attorneys did not return a request for comment Monday.

Both the handcuffed man and a captain at the Denver Sheriff Department flagged the incident for review by the Administrative Investigations Unit.

"He just felt like he was superior knowing that his job is to protect and serve me," the man told investigators, according to the disciplinary letter. "That's his job. But he did not protect or serve me."
 (c)2021 The Denver Post

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